The Golden State Warriors will face the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals. It will be a clash of styles, as the fluid offense of the Warriors will be tested by Memphis' physical defense. The Warriors start the series as the clear favorite to advance, in no small part because of injury concerns for the Grizzlies. Yet everyone should know not to count Memphis out by now.
It will be the first time these two teams will face each other in the playoffs, so the matchup doesn't have the typical feel of a rivalry. It wouldn't be surprising, however, if it becomes one after this series. The clash of personalities between Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph guarantees some feisty play, and if Mike Conley is available, it could be a longer series than many expect. These were the two best teams in the West for most of the regular season before Memphis' late swoon.
Stephen Curry was stellar in the first round sweep of the Pelicans, averaging almost 34 points per game along with seven assists. If Conley, who recently had facial surgery, is not available to guard him, Curry could put up similar numbers against Memphis. Tony Allen could probably help keep him in check, but that would leave Courtney Lee on the bigger Klay Thompson, who torched New Orleans from outside for 25 points per game on 48 percent three-point field goal percentage. Thompson also lit up the Grizzlies during the regular season.
For the Grizzlies to win, Marc Gasol will have to shine against the rugged Bogut. The Warriors kept him below his averages in points and assists in the regular season; if they were to achieve that again in the playoffs, the Grizzlies will not have enough firepower to hang with Golden State. Randolph will have his hands full covering Green on the perimeter and dealing with his physicality inside, so the Grizzlies' bench will be relied upon to provide a scoring punch against the league's best defense. How successful they are in outscoring the Warriors' reserves will have a huge effect on their chances of emerging victorious.
It's a shame we might not get these two teams going at each other fully healthy for seven games, but there's enough talent here to make it a great series anyways.
- Warriors (67-15, expected: 65-17) vs. Grizzlies (55-27, expected: 50-32)
- Offensive efficiency: Warriors 109.7 (2nd) | Grizzlies 103.1 (13th)
- Defensive efficiency: Warriors 98.2 (1st) | Grizzlies 99.9 (4th)
- Season series: Warriors 2-1. The Grizzlies won the first matchup of the season but the Warriors got the two most recent wins, both coming in April.
4 questions that will decide the series
1. What do you think is your team's biggest advantage in this series?
Golden State of Mind: The Warriors will have the shooting advantage all series long, as they shoot the three light years better than the Grizzlies do. If the Warriors control the pace and get out on the break, that will cause the Grizzlies to have to play faster and more aggressive, where Memphis prefers to slow down and grind. As we saw in the regular season, with Bogut and Draymond grinding with Gasol and Randolph, the Warriors neutralize the size of the Grizzlies' bigs.
Grizzly Bear Blues: The matchup against Draymond Green. This may seem counterintuitive, considering he just won the popular vote for Defensive Player of the Year, but he doesn't have the size to contain Marc Gasol when Golden State goes small and Green is the type of player Playoff Zach Randolph was put on this earth to consume. Right now, Randolph is doing pushups in his house staring at pictures of Draymond. (Tony Allen broke in last night and taped them up in a bunch of places Randolph can't reach because he can't jump.)
2. What do you think is your team's biggest disadvantage in this series?
GSoM: Marc Gasol is still one of the league’s best scoring big men, and even though the Warriors have a good starting matchup against him, they have very little to stop him outside of Bogut. Long stretches of Festus Ezeli against Kostas Koufos and Gasol could be issues if Bogut finds himself in foul trouble. You must keep the Memphis front line off the boards, and that will require a complete team effort.
GBB: The matchup against Stephen Curry. It's tempting to point to Klay Thompson as a softer spot in the Grizzlies' defensive scheme because he was so lethal the two Warriors wins, but Tony Allen was either out or hurt in both those games. This time, Tony appears to be healthy and insane as ever, whereas the uncertainty at the point guard spot tips the scales to Curry.
3. Which player needs to step his game up most for your team to win?
GSoM: This series is going to be a matchup of the second lines and role players, as the stars will equal out. The player in the spotlight here will be Harrison Barnes, a line of thought we've discussed so many times this season. He will be matched up with Allen and Lee and needs to find as many advantages to attack the Memphis big men as he can. Will his shooting show up? Will he disappear on the court again? If he shows up, the Warriors could take this one in five. If he does not, it could extend closer to seven.
GBB: BANE CONLEY. It's simple: Memphis won't come close to winning this series without their starting point guard. In fact, they won't come close unless he plays and plays brilliantly. If and when Mike puts on a mask, he will need put on an All-Star level performance that no amount of Damian Lillard Instagrams can take away.
4. What is your series prediction and why?
GSoM: I’m sticking with Warriors in five. I think Golden State sweep the games in Oakland, but Memphis takes Game 3 back home. After that, the Warriors adjust to win Game 4 and take it home to stamp their ticket to the Western Conference finals. The Warriors have too much depth and have finally found Memphis’s number in recent games. Memphis needs to push Golden State around and force them off their game, but nobody can do that to the iteration of the Warriors. The only way to challenge the Warriors is to either be the Spurs or have a guy named Anthony Davis. Memphis has neither one of these things.
GBB: Grizzlies in six because I'm a total homer. I'll try to defend it by saying that I honestly don't think that the Memphis Grizzlies can beat the Golden State Warriors in a seven-game series. But the BANE GRIZZLIES??? This could get wild. If you know anything about Conley, you know that he wasn't just trying to soak up love from the fans when he was shown on the Jumbotron in Game 5 against the Blazers. That dude's coming back. And this is the kind of team that'll get jacked up by a masked Conley performance and overwhelm the Warriors. Forget "Whoop That Trick." This is what we'll be chanting come Game 3 in the Grindhouse.
Schedule (all times ET)
Game 1: Sunday, May 3. Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA. 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 2: Tuesday, May 5. Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA. 10:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: Saturday, May 9. FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN. 8 p.m. (ABC)
Game 4: Monday, May 11. FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN. 9:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, May 13. Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA. TBD. (TNT)
Game 6 (if necessary : Friday, May 15. FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN. TBD. (ESPN)
Game 7 (if necessary: Sunday, May 17. Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA. TBD.