Warriors' Complete Guide to Play-In Game vs. GrizzliesMay 20, 2021
Warriors' Complete Guide to Play-In Game vs. Grizzlies
In wholly objective terms, the Golden State Warriors' 103-100 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night was the one that got away.
The Warriors had a 13-point lead at halftime, a three-point advantage with three minutes to go and two chances to tie the score in the final 40 seconds.
But Golden State needs to erase all of the above from its memory banks and do it quickly. In the latest example of NBA life comes at you quick, the Warriors are suddenly faced with a win-or-go-home game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.
If the Dubs aren't careful, they could waste Stephen Curry's MVP-caliber campaign without even a first-round ticket to show for it.
This contest, which tips at 9 p.m. ET on Friday night (ESPN), is as crucial as they come. Let's break down everything you need to know about the matchup.
Not even the world's biggest Ja Morant believer will expect to play Curry to a draw.
The former is a 21-year-old in his second NBA season. The latter is a two-time MVP who just earned his second scoring title and became the league's oldest scoring champ since Michael Jordan. They aren't in the same weight class.
But that doesn't mean the Grizzlies can lose the point guard battle in lopsided fashion. That's what happened when these squads met Sunday—Curry erupted for 46 points and nine assists; Morant had 16 points on 21 shots—and Memphis never had a chance, falling by a 113-101 margin.
Afterward, Morant could only sit, marvel and fire off a tweet about Curry being the "MVP. no debate!!"
The Grizzlies don't lean as heavily on Morant as the Warriors do with Curry, but he's still their top offensive weapon and team leader in points (19.1) and assists (7.4). If he can't keep this respectable, the Grizzlies probably can't, either.
Meanwhile, Golden State needs to find some muscle to better handle Jonas Valanciunas on the interior. That job will fall on the collective shoulders of Kevon Looney, Draymond Green and Juan Toscano-Anderson.
The 6'11", 265-pound Valanciunas paired brute force with skill to bash the Warriors bigs for 29 points (on 12-of-15 shooting!) and 16 rebounds. Saying that, though, the Grizzlies need to squeeze more substance out of those stats. Despite the gaudy numbers, Valanciunas was a minus-13 across 35 minutes.
While Golden State has helped Andrew Wiggins evolve into his most efficient self, 2014's top pick continues to alternate between flashes of brilliance and stretches of silence.
Some of that is due to his role. When Curry has it going, Wiggins is confined to the shadows—like everyone else in a Warriors uniform. But when Wiggins searches out shots (within the system) and puts points on the board, it takes this offense next level.
He might be even more critical at the defensive end, especially with Kelly Oubre Jr. still working his way back from a left wrist injury. Wiggins must answer the call defensively against Morant and Dillon Brooks and still find enough fuel in the tank to handle second-scorer duties.
Speaking of support scoring, the Warriors need to keep juicing the orange with sophomore scoring guard Jordan Poole. It took him a while to find his footing, but since returning from the G League in early March, he has been one of the more reliable options at the offensive end—and one of the best bets to keep the attack flowing without Curry.
Memphis, meanwhile, can only hope Jaren Jackson Jr. rediscovers his shooting touch.
His debut was delayed until late April by a meniscus tear, and he's looked awfully rusty since stepping back inside the lines. At his best, he functions as a high-level shooter, shot-creator and defensive Swiss Army knife. But Grizzlies fans have yet to see that version, as Jackson managed just 14.4 points per game on 42.4/28.3/83.3 shooting over his 11 outings.
Predicting the future can be impossible—otherwise we'd all be lottery winners, right?—but this feels like the exception.
We just saw this matchup with almost identical circumstances.
Granted, the loser wasn't eliminated from the playoffs, but the winner was granted the eighth seed and, with it, a second shot at life in the play-in tournament. It seemed like a postseason environment inside Chase Center, and the more experienced Warriors predictably fared better under the bright lights.
The Grizzlies are young, scrappy and incredibly hard-working. But they don't have a proven winner like Green or a championship-winning coach like Steve Kerr, let alone a supernova scoring force like Curry.
The Warriors are good, and they know it. Wednesday's thriller was just the latest example that this club can hang with anyone even without Klay Thompson.
Golden State should be laser-focused Friday and eager to try to make noise against the Utah Jazz. Memphis might need a miracle to survive, and our crystal ball doesn't see one coming.
Prediction: Warriors by nine.