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NBA semis looking great for Golden State, but don’t count Memphis out yet


Steph Curry and co. are up 2-1 on a Ja Morant-less Grizzlies squad.
Photo: Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors don’t always have to grind out a victory. They can press the right buttons on their good nights and have defenses whiffing on the wrong reads and getting lost on StephCurry/Klay Thompson/Jordan Poole relocations when Draymond Green is dealing.

Tight finishes in games 1 and 2 in Memphis gave the Grizzlies the confidence they could solve the Golden State equation. In Game 3, Golden State’s offense often resembled a Three-card Monte trick. The Grizzlies found themselves trying to figure out which Splash Brother would go off at any point in time and got humbled by all three. Memphis was disconcerted by the shotmaking, ball movement, defensive rotations and lacked the same energy they exuded at home.

Klay Thompson shot 4-of-6 beyond the arc and finished with 21 points. Jordan Poole Eurostepped his way past countless flat-footed defenders, finishing with 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting. Steph Curry kicked in 30 of his own, sinking 14 free throws, but made only two triples.

 

Golden State engineered new ways to keep Memphis’ defense on its toes. The Grizzlies over pursued, hedged too hard and found themselves scrambling perpetually.

Then in the final minutes of regulation, Ja Morant limping off the floor with a knee injury was the most troubling harbinger for Memphis’ Game 4 outlook. It’s a perfect time to think the Warriors are going to coast to a Western Conference Finals, but Golden State needs to realize that Memphis may come out with a card up their sleeves in Game 4.

Golden State can’t let its focus wander. The most dangerous animal you can encounter is an injured one. Memphis has shown the backbone to bounce back from big in-game deficits all season long. It rallied over and over to win without Ja Morant throughout the regular season, compiling a record of 20-5 in games that he sat.

We’ve seen Golden State fumble control of a series or games it had in hand before. There is a thin line between Steve Kerr’s motion offense moving in synchronicity and the chaos that kept Memphis hanging around in the first half. Golden State shot 70 percent from the field, but nearly tripped over its own feet by committing 14 turnovers.

Nobody shares the rock like Golden State whose 29.4 assists per game in the postseason is first among playoff teams by a significant margin. It led the league in assists per game every postseason from 2015 through 2019, save for 2017 when it was second behind New Orleans. When Kerr joined the Warriors, he tracked 300 passes per game as a barometer for the offense. Sometimes they take that lesson too far and overpassing becomes their peccadillo. When the Warriors start getting too full of themselves, the ball turns into a live grenade they can’t wait to toss back to the opposing team.

A Game 4 at home with the chance to take a 3-1 series lead is the perfect time for Golden State to get comfortable. Golden State will have nearly its full complement of talent available, assuming Green doesn’t earn himself a silly tech, but Memphis returns Dillon Brooks into the fold. Brooks has only scored eight points in this series, but he’s also fresh, amped up and ready to burst at the seams to make up for lost time.

Golden State was hot in Game 2, but this series may hinge on whether the team can maintain that same energy for Game 3.



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