For the first time during this 2014-2015 NBA Basketball season the Golden State Warriors are facing their first bit of adversity. For the first time this year a team has thrown something at them that they are having a difficult time of deciphering. The result is a 2-1 deficit in their best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinal series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Am I concerned ? Yes. The reason for concern is I do believe Memphis has the magic elixir that can work against the run-and-gun Dubs. Their ability to slow the pace, slow the tempo and not give in to the Warriors fast paced style is serving them well in this series. I don’t see that changing much, even if the Dubs are able to recover.
Memphis’ tenacious ball-hawking defense and their tremendous approach to the high-pick-and-roll has caused the Warriors mass confusion on the offensive end. The Grizzlies are attacking Steph Curry off the high screen-and-roll. It’s not a soft double. The Grizzlies are leaving the screener open and putting two guys on Curry 25-30 feet from the hole. If Curry passes the ball to Bogut, mission accomplished for the Grizzlies. If Curry passes the ball to Draymond Green, mission accomplished for the Grizzlies. They are the only team this year that has consistently been able to get the ball out of Curry’s hands. Because of this the Warriors are playing at a break-neck speed on the offensive end and it is causing them to play flustered, frenetic and out of control.
By Memphis controlling tempo they are also minimizing the number of possessions in the game. The Warriors rely on having an inordinate amount of possessions. Curry and company are so good and controlling tempo that when they commit 15-20 turnovers in the regular season, they have more than enough possessions to make up for the miscues. Not so in this series. Memphis’ ability to control tempo has made the Warriors 20 turnover tallies fatal and the Dubs don’t have enough chances to make up for their miscues. In Games 2 & 3 this has caused the Warriors to become rushed and hurried.
At first glance I was not happy with the Warriors defensive approach to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The Warriors needed to double-team them a lot of more. I thought it took Steve Kerr a little too long to do it. And then, when it had worked and the Warriors had climbed back into the game, the coaching staff thought Festus Ezeli could single-handedly stop Randolph in the late 3rd quarter and that is when the Grizzlies extended their lead again. I think the Warriors must make the Courtney Lee’s and Mike Conley’s of the world beat them from the perimeter. Get the ball out of Randolph and Gasol’s hands, make them passers instead of isolation attackers. The Warriors can not do this though, by going small. They need to put size on size and this becomes the Warriors dilemma. How much the Dubs react to what the Grizzlies are doing and forsaking what makes them a force on the offensive end ? It’s a delicate balance for Steve Kerr and staff and not an easy call.
I have many reasons to be optimistic as the Warriors head into this biggest of Game 4’s. First of all the Warriors won 67 games. They beat Memphis like a drum twice in the final month of the season and have yet to show in this series why they were the best team in the league. I just can’t believe they will go an entire series and not enforce THEIR will on this Grizzlies team. When the game has gotten hard for the Warriors they have exacerbated the problem by making it more difficult. The Dubs have shown all year they can beat you running, and they can beat you in the half-court. To do that they will need consistency from their three best offensive weapons. Curry needs to be better. He reticence to attack is a direct reflection of the outstanding Memphis defense. Taking ONLY one shot in 4th quarter of Game 3 is unacceptable and I doubt that will happen again. Klay Thompson has been neutralized by Tony Allen who has shut him down and has officially gotten into his head. Klay really needs to attack and get to the stripe. He can’t settle for the three-point shot if the Grizzlies close out is strong. Drive to the hole, make the Grizzlies pay for the aggressive close-out, if they rotate, pass the ball, move the ball. When the Warriors are at their best the ball moves and everyone gets a touch.
Contrary to what the sky-is-falling crowd wants you to believe the Warriors have remedies and answers to this Memphis defense. They just need to employ them like they have all year. Pass the ball, move the ball, make the defense move, make them commit. Once they commit, lanes will open. Avenues will clear the offense should click. One on one hoops will not beat Memphis.
I expect Draymond Green to have a much better game tonight. He was a big bundle of mess on Saturday. Despite having a decent floor game, his offense was out of sorts. He is so good at the spot up three and the dribble attack and dish. Tentativeness by Draymond leads to a stagnancy from everyone else. He is their heart and soul. They need him, and I expect him to respond.
Andrew Bogut needs to play more than 21 minutes. He is a fantastic passer and post defender. When the Warriors go ultra small Bogut sits and I don’t think that helps this team in this series. Bogut is vital at matching wits with Gasol. But, the Grizzlies center has been pulling Bogut out from under the hoop and I believe that has given the Warriors coaching staff pause. It shouldn’t. Let Gasol shoot 18 footers. Bogut needs to play 30-33 minutes.
Where is David Lee ? Tonight is the night we need to see Lee. Mareese Speights is out with a pulled calf and may even miss the rest of the series. Lee did not play in Game 3, he may be rusty but I believe the Warriors can’t afford to let him languish on the bench. He needs to play. He is an energizer. He is a guy that will make hustle plays. While he will struggle defensively, remember he can score and is adept around the hoop. The Warriors problem hasn’t been defense, sure in isolated spots they have been over-matched, but for the most part its their offense and turnovers which are killing them.
The Warriors need to take care of the ball. If they are over 15 turnovers they could be in trouble. Ball possession is vital against a team that controls the tempo like Memphis. Careless and hurried possessions are what the Dubs can not afford. The Warriors forced Memphis into some turnovers the other night, they couldn’t score. The difference is when Memphis forces the Warriors into turnovers, they are lay-ups. That CAN’T happen.
I expect and I believe the Warriors will respond tonight. If they are a championship caliber squad they will show up tonight and even this series at 2-2. If they don’t, they may have run into the kryptonite that will render their 67-win season a mere footnote in NBA lore. A lot is riding on their next 48 minutes and I expect them to respond in a big way