2015 Warriors Playoffs – The Grizzlies Turn Up The Defensive Intensity

2015 Warriors Playoffs

Photo via Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

The Grizzlies take one from the Warriors at home.

If you ask both fanbases their thoughts on game two of the Warriors vs Grizzlies series, you’re going to get entirely different reasons for how the game turned out.

Warriors fans (and I’m generalizing here in both cases) believe their team simply missed open shots and turned the ball over, as if it was simply a bad night all around for the team. But if you think about how often that ever happens with winning teams, it seems like a fallacy to think that way.

(I find it odd when fanbases angrily turn on their teams to justify their dissatisfaction.)

On the other hand, Grizzlies fans think it was all about Tony Allen and how he handled the Warriors’ perimeter players. He brought a fight to the team that it was lacking in game one and changed the tempo.

Some may think it’s a copout to say that it was definitely both, but it truly was. Yes, the Warriors missed more uncontested shots than they did in game one, but they also had less uncontested shots to take, meaning that Memphis was defending all the way through possessions.

What that stat tells me is that the Warriors weren’t getting easy buckets or fast break points and I haven’t verified this next statistic, but Tom Tolbert mentioned it on the air after the game, so I’m going to assume it’s right on.

Memphis did many things right in game two. They used a lot of time on the shot clock on their offensive possessions, which meant the Warriors were playing a lot of defense and not able to get out and run like they wanted. But they also played defense to the end of the Warriors possessions, making the Warriors work tremendously hard to find scoring opportunities.

All season long, the Warriors have spaced the court amazingly well, whipping the ball around the court and finding open shots because defenses couldn’t keep up with the movement. On Tuesday night, Memphis closed out on the perimeter well and didn’t give up open shots near the end of possessions. The Warriors were taking more difficult shots and if they couldn’t get them from the outside, were having to drive through Marc Gasol. And that’s not their game.

On the flipside for the Warriors, there was a feeling inside the building the whole night that Memphis was playing their absolute best basketball and the Warriors weren’t, and yet the Warriors were in proper striking distance. I don’t think the Grizzlies fans ever felt that way in game one.

Having Mike (Bane) Conley was a tremendous boost for the Grizz. Their on-court leader was back. Nick Calethes, who started in game one and didn’t score, didn’t even play in game two. That’s addition by subtraction. Conley hit the open jumper whenever his man doubled in the post and hit a few three-balls as well. Will Mike Conley go 8-12 again in this series again? Probably not. And while you can’t really compare positions against each other because Curry wasn’t on Conley the entire time and most of Curry’s shots came after dribbling through double teams, it’s not a stretch to say that Conley won the battle of the point guard position.

The referees allowed the game to be played at a more Memphis-like pace. All of the physicality was allowed to happen, including Tony Allen grabbing and pulling Curry and Klay Thompson at will, and usually with both hands. Z-Bo, Gasol, Draymond Green, and Andrew Bogut were allowed to blast into each other. But they were very quick to blow the whistle on the ticky tacky stuff like the reach-ins. The Warriors played great defense on both Gasol and Z-Bo on late possessions and the referees bailed both men out as they took desperation shots. It wasn’t the difference in the game, but it helped Memphis stay in the tempo they wanted.

As it usually is with media and fans, it’s all about the most recent game. In everyone’s mind, game three will go like game two and the Warriors will have to show that they’re tough enough to play the Grizzlies’ way. But what about game one? I’m not convinced that the Warriors won’t be able to force Memphis to get back into a faster paced game. In fact, I’d bet that one of the next two games in Memphis will favor the Warriors pace-wise.

The Warriors’ game one win was more impressive than the Grizzlies game two win. But what game two proved is that the Grizzlies are absolutely the worst match-up for the Warriors because of what they can do to the tempo of the game. Randolph and Gasol’s numbers weren’t terribly impressive, but they were difference makers in the game just by being who they are on the court – big, mean, and nasty.

Steve Kerr didn’t win the coach of the year award because he had more talent than Atlanta’s Coach Bud. But he can show his prowess (along with his assistants) by figuring out how to plan a Warriors’ attack that resembles game one more than game two.

We have a series y’all.

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