This was supposed to be Stephen Curry's night. On Monday it was announced that the Warriors point guard had been named the league's Most Valuable Player. Tuesday he received the trophy in front of his team's fans. This was just Golden State's latest historic moment in a season full of them. The party was about to begin. A win seemed inevitable.
Then Game 2 tipped off and almost immediately Curry was upstaged. Mike Conley, returning to the court after a three game absence due to, well, a fractured face, quickly displayed why the Grizzlies consider him an irreplaceable cog. Donning a plastic mask Conley scored nine points in the game's first seven minutes, more than the Grizzlies' point guards scored in total in Game 1, and finished with 22 points in 27 minutes. His presence transformed the Grizzlies into a different team and catapulted them to a 97-90 Game 2 win over in Golden State.
It was the Warriors' first home loss in 21 games. The series is now tied at one.
Not only did Conley turn the Grizzlies into an effective offensive unit, but he also helped them shut down the best offense in the league. Curry, who Conley spent the majority of his time guarding, was held to 19 points. He went just 7-of-19 from the field and 2-of-11 from deep. The Warriors never could find an offensive rhythm, and Conley's defense was a major reason why. He cut off the head of the snake and did so early on. It never grew back.
Of course, the Warriors are still the favorites in this series. They've been the league's best team all season and one game's doesn't mean everything is falling apart. Even the best shooters are going to miss sometimes. But what we learned Tuesday night is that when Mike Conley's on the court the Grizzlies are a different team. Conley is the only perimeter player on the roster who can create his own shot. He's the one who makes everything go.
Maybe the Grizzlies still end up losing this series in five or six games. But they're going to give the Warriors a fight as long as Mike Conley's on the court. He may not be the league MVP, but that doesn't mean the Grizzlies don't need him as much as the Warriors need Curry.
3 other things we learned
The Hawks are not a championship contender. Forget their 106-90 Game 2 win Tuesday night. For one, the game was much closer than the final score as the Wizards stayed within a few points until the game's final four minutes. This happened despite the fact that Washington's best player, John Wall, didn't play (Wall was forced to sit out due to the left wrist injury which he sustained in Game 1). And yet, somehow, the Hawks were still unable to put the undermanned Wizards away. Even more disturbing: this was a home game for Atlanta, and one that team, after dropping Game 1, needed to have. We're now a few weeks into the playoffs and the Hawks have still yet to look like the dominant team which they were at times during the regular season. That does bode well for them going forward.
Draymond Green staying out of foul trouble may be the key to the Warriors-Grizzlies series. There are myriad reasons why Draymond Green is so essential to the Warriors. For one, he's the team's best defensive player and at the heart of their strategy to switch on most screens. But Green is also a "stretch-four." His ability to hit three-pointers creates great spacing for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and allows the Warriors offense to go. That's why him picking up two early fouls in Game 2, forcing him to the bench, was such a blow. Golden State doesn't have another big man who can shoot from deep. With Green out the team either has to play two big men or go small. In Game 2 Steve Kerr initially went with David Lee, but that didn't work at all. This mean that the Warriors had to play the first quarter with a subpar offensive group on the floor. Did that lead to Curry and Thompson's cold shooting night? You can't say yes for sure, but it's certainly a possible explanation as to why the team never found a rhythm and hit just six of its 26 attempts from behind the arc.
Nene is really struggling. This might seem a bit random, as Nene is not exactly a player fans spend much time thinking about these days. But anytime a playoff team's starting power forward goes scoreless in the first two games of the series, well, that's something worth pointing out. Nene went 0-for-5 from the field in Game 2 in 27 minutes of playing time. He played 17 minutes in Game 1 and missed all four of his field goal attempts. Getting 19 points from Ramon Sessions is nice, and Bradley Beal played well once again in Game 2. But the Wizards are going to need more from Nene if they intend to upset the No. 1 seeded Hawks.
Play of the Night
Not a night of many highlights, but watching Curry do stuff like this never gets old.