Much like the Golden State Warriors years ago, the Memphis Grizzlies have built up a foundation for sustainable success largely through drafting and developing in an age of super teams and free-agent sweepstakes.
At this point, though, both franchises are at different stages. The Warriors are back looking like a juggernaut as they push for another shot at Larry OB, while the Grizzlies – whose oldest starter is 26 with Steven Adams out – are inexperienced and still learning how to win in the playoffs.
One thing’s for sure: this series should be fun because both teams are stacked with talent. Let’s take a look.
Season series: 3-1 Memphis
Grizzlies: 4-2 | No. 10 offence | No. 3 defence | No. 6 net rating
Warriors: 4-1 | No. 1 offence | No. 8 defence | No. 4 net rating
To win series: MEM +210, GSW: -255 (Courtesy FanDuel at time of publication)
To win championship: MEM: +1200, GSW: +300
Grizzlies Bench: Xavier Tillman, Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, Kyle Anderson, Ziaire Williams (if healthy), De’Anthony Melton
*If Adams is out, which he is for Game 1 due to COVID-19, Tillman starts in his place
Warriors Bench: Kevon Looney, Andre Iguodala, Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica, Jonathan Kuminga
Pulse of the Grizzlies
The pulse of the Grizzlies is… not quite what it was entering Round 1. They came into the playoffs with conviction as one of the stories of the season after finishing a surprising second in the West, but facing the Minnesota Timberwolves was a bit of a struggle as far as No. 2 vs. 7 matchups go.
The Timberwolves are a much better team than many gave them credit for, but the Grizzlies showed inexperience by letting them take huge leads. Luckily, Minnesota was just as inexperienced and gave those leads up – but that won’t happen against Golden State.
Other than Bane thriving, Memphis struggled to get anything going on offence, especially in the half-court (which is crucial to playoff basketball). Both Jackson and Morant had subpar series, despite the epic dunk and game-winning layup, so the Grizzlies can’t be feeling their best right now.
Still, the Grizzlies have home-court advantage and Green said a month ago that they are “unbothered, and that’s a great characteristic,” which is true. After winning the season series 3-1, Memphis will definitely put up a fight.
Pulse of the Warriors
Put that weird second-half of the season in the past, the Warriors have their swagger back. After a gentleman’s sweep of Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets in Round 1, they look like championship favourites. Although beating a weak Nuggets team may not be something to put too much stock in, the Warriors were able to rekindle their chemistry – which was a major question mark entering the playoffs considering how little Curry, Poole, Thompson and Green had played together this season.
Throwing it back to their championship days, now they even have a new version of the “Death Lineup” with Poole the revelation joining Curry and Thompson as guards, and Draymond – who looks as good as ever on defence – slotting in at centre.
The Dubs are rolling, shots are falling and they’re entering this series filled with confidence.
Key matchup to watch
Ja Morant vs. Steph Curry. It’s obvious, but let’s be real, what’s the No. 1 reason you’re tuning in? Morant and Curry are two of the game’s most exciting point guards for opposite reasons. Curry is the greatest shooter of all-time who’s unstoppable from anywhere on the court when he gets rolling. Morant pulls off feats of athleticism that defy physics on a night-to-night basis. Both are going to fill the highlight-reel and cause major headaches for the opposing defences.
Honourable mention: Jaren Jackson Jr. vs. Draymond Green. Two Michigan State Spartans who’ve made their names by playing world-class defence.
Grizzlies win if …
A lot needs to happen for the Grizzlies to win. First, Morant and Jackson need to be much better than against the Wolves. In Jackson’s case, he needs to learn how to stay out of foul trouble to remain on the court and take advantage of the mismatches he’ll get when the Warriors go small. For Morant, the Warriors don’t have someone who can guard him other than Payton – and they can’t have him playing 30-plus minutes a game. He needs to be the guy who looked like an MVP candidate at times this season.
With the Warriors likely leaning on their small lineup, the Grizzlies have to grind away on the offensive glass to generate extra possessions. They led the league in offensive rebounds this season and should be able to make that a problem for the Warriors even if Adams misses time.
Warriors win if …
They keep the momentum rolling from Round 1. Curry, Thompson and Poole averaged a combined 70-plus points per game against the Nuggets. If that repeats itself, good luck to the Grizzlies. Whether or not Poole can score over 20 a game in consecutive rounds is up for question, making him a bit of an X-factor.