If you thought the last game was ugly…the Warriors lost game five in the first half. Possibly the first quarter. It’s conceivable the Warriors lost Game Five before the opening tip. Golden State was shellacked by the Memphis Grizzlies and ultimately lost 134-95. Garbage time started midway through the third quarter, and the Grizzlies pushed their lead over 50 points in the period.
The Grizzlies’ dominance even forced Draymond Green to wave the white towel. Make no mistake, this is one of the more embarrassing performances you’ll see in the playoffs. And that’s before considering Ja Morant’s absence.
There’s no shortage of areas in which the Warriors can improve next game. Frankly, there are far more than five. The Warriors’ turnover issues have been so well-documented that they won’t be included below, but it must be mentioned they committed 14 in the first half alone. What are the reasons the Warriors lost Game Five, and how do they avoid losing Game Six?
Five Adjustments to Make After the Golden State Warriors Lost Game Five
Get Off to a Better Start
Game two remains the only game in which the Warriors have not faced a double-digit deficit in the first quarter. Memphis could only get out to an eight-point advantage in the first period of that game.
The Warriors’ start in game five was actually relatively decent compared to other games in this series. In this game’s first six minutes, Memphis’ double-digit lead was mainly fueled by their own three-point shooting, rather than egregious Warrior turnovers. Golden State saved their atrocious giveaways and inexplicable defensive breakdowns for the other 42 minutes of this game.
The start may not have been why the Warriors lost game five, but it certainly didn’t help. Any team would be hard-pressed to win this many playoff games after allowing a ten-point lead to their opponents. You’d expect a veteran team to be able to limit these miscues early; it’s time for Golden State to play to those expectations.
Stay Attached to Desmond Bane
Game five was the first time Desmond Bane looked near full health in this series, and he is the Grizzlies’ best offensive player with Morant missing. It’s vital the Warriors do a better job defending Bane in Game Six. His 21-point outing was his highest total in any game this series, and he’s the best shooter on the Grizzlies’ roster by far.
The Warriors can no longer help off Bane in any scenario. Bane has tremendous footwork creating side-step and step-back threes when defenders close out to him in a rush. Not leaving Bane ensures he never has an out-of-control defender to attack.
The best way to defend Bane is to crowd him when he catches the ball and force him to dribble. The team did not execute that strategy well enough as the Warriors lost Game Five. Memphis has very few three-point shooters other than Bane, and the Warriors are quick enough to recover. Let Ziaire Williams, Kyle Anderson, and especially Dillon Brooks shoot as many threes as they like.
Change Defensive Coverages at the Right Times
The Warriors went to a 1-2-2 zone to defend the Grizzlies early in the second quarter. Golden State has had success running that scheme against Memphis, notably in their Game Three triumph. The zone is effective but must be deployed at the right moments.
The Warriors lost Game Five because early in the second quarter was not the right moment. Brandon Clarke was in the game, and Taylor Jenkins stationed him in the middle of the zone.
Clarke got the ball inside the free-throw line, rose, and lofted the ball over Kevon Looney’s outstretched arm and into the net twice. Clarke shot 54.7% on paint shots outside of the restricted area this regular season. Only seven NBA players made a higher percentage on at least 100 attempts, and those were all superstars, seven-footers, or Drew Eubanks (?!).
The Warriors have an intelligent team full of veterans who can execute a number of schemes. It’s up to the coaches to be more judicious and instruct the teams to run the schemes best suited to defend the opponent’s personnel. Not doing so burned them as the Warriors lost Game Five.
More Jonathan Kuminga (Off the Bench)
Jonathan Kuminga has started the past three games for the Warriors, and at best has had little effect on the outcome. He sprinted into three turnovers in Game Three and seemed uncomfortable. Kuminga calmed down to start Games Four and Five, but his positive contributions were minimal.
Kuminga can still help this team, though, and the Warriors might need more of his help in Game Six (see below). Those minutes should come in a bench role going forward. The return of Steven Adams probably means Looney should start Game Six to match Memphis’ size. He matches up better against the Memphis frontcourt backups Clarke and Anderson anyway.
Kuminga’s athleticism offers the Warriors fast break finishing and a true rim threat on offense. He struggles with help situations and in rotation on defense but is capable of guarding anyone his size or smaller one-on-one.
If nothing else, how the Warriors lost Game Five should be a clue that this team needs a jolt of energy. The complacency that defined the Warriors’ effort in this game cannot be repeated. Kuminga’s demeanor can appear lethargic at times, but he has the game to provide energy to his teammates and Chase Center. The Warriors will need it in Game Six.
Hope Otto Porter Jr. Can Return
Kuminga will be needed more if Otto Porter Jr. misses time. Porter’s foot injury was the worst outcome of the game for the Warriors, including the loss itself. He has been integral to the team’s success all regular season and in the playoffs. Porter’s plus-minus is currently the best on the team in the postseason; the Warriors are outscoring teams by 7.2 points per 100 possessions with Porter on the floor.
Porter isn’t the team’s leading rebounder, but he’s certainly their most diligent boxout artist. His work keeping Clarke off the offensive glass early in the series was understated but necessary. Golden State was outrebounded by 18 with Porter missing the second half, the first game of this series in which Memphis topped Golden State.
Porter had also started to rediscover his three-point shot, shooting 7-11 in Games Three and Four combined. It’s impossible to overstate how much his absence negatively impacts the team, especially with Andre Iguodala and Gary Payton II already out.
This isn’t 2017 when Mike Brown went undefeated coaching the Warriors with Steve Kerr unavailable. Brown is a fine coach and should help a flailing Sacramento Kings organization. But the way the Warriors lost game five shows the team needs an emotional lift. Perhaps returning home helps the Warriors match the Grizzlies’ intensity. This already-dramatic series becomes operatic if there’s a game seven.
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