The series that started with back-to-back ejections ends with the Grizzlies being ejected from the playoffs.
The Golden State Warriors beat Memphis 110-96 in Game 6 and sealed their series victory. Injuries and suspensions overshadowed the on-court results of the first three games. Golden State overcame Draymond Green’s ejection as the Warriors beat Memphis in Game 1. Dillon Brooks was suspended in Game 2 after injuring Gary Payton II. Ja Morant was injured in Game 3 and wouldn’t return.
The Grizzlies reformed their identity on the fly, doubling down on physicality and stifling defense in Morant’s absence. They were able to extend the series and even crushed the Warriors by nearly 40 points in Memphis, but were unable to advance to the next round. There’s plenty to learn from this series, and plenty to celebrate as well.
Golden State Warriors Beat Memphis Grizzlies and Return to West Finals
Game 6 Thoughts
Klay Thompson was brilliant for Golden State in Game 6. The Warriors beat Memphis because of his star turn, which included hot shooting and some of his best defense since his Jan. 9th return. Thompson blocked Desmond Bane and Tyus Jones in a three-minute fourth-quarter stretch and managed to force a turnover by stripping the ball off Brooks in between. Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins were tremendous, providing exceptional rebounding and timely two-way play, respectively. Stephen Curry provided enough scoring in the fourth to seal the win.
Green was uncharacteristically aggressive as a scorer, which was a welcome surprise for the Warriors. Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. ignored Green and Looney to crowd the paint and discourage drives from perimeter players. Green pushed the pace in transition and converted enough layups and floaters to remain a threat. He finished with 14 points, his most in a game since Dec. 20th.
Memphis continued their impressive run of play without Morant. The rugged Grizzlies defense forced countless turnovers and rushed shots. Brooks and Desmond Bane capably carried the scoring load. The Grizzlies lost this game on the glass despite these efforts. The Warriors’ 70 rebounds were the most in a playoff game since 1983. The Warriors beat Memphis by overcoming the Grizzlies’ size advantage, and Memphis will spend the summer wondering how it happened.
Series Takeaways for the Warriors
The rebounding edge Golden State showed in Game 6 isn’t new; the Warriors beat Memphis by dominating the glass. The Grizzlies won the battle of the boards in Game 5 only. The Warriors were a top-10 team in rebounding all season, and that’s a big part of this team’s identity. It will need to continue in the Western Conference Finals.
The Warriors’ rebounding helps keep the possession game equal because turnovers are clearly also part of the team’s identity. Golden State’s offensive potency means having an equal number of shot attempts as their opponent should make them the favorite to win any game. Their turnover rate, second-to-last in the league, makes attempting an equal number of shots a challenge for this squad. Memphis had personnel well-suited to take advantage of these issues, but so will the Dallas Mavericks.
Most importantly, the Warriors beat Memphis in a variety of ways. Games 1, 2, and 4 were tense affairs decided in crunch time, and the Warriors went 2-1. Games 3, 5, and 6 were all decided by double-digits, and the Warriors went 2-1. Curry, Thompson, and Green form an aging but experienced core with a dynastic pedigree. Wiggins’ athletic two-way play in the postseason has solidified his place in the closing lineup. Looney, Jordan Poole, and Otto Porter Jr. are potential closers with vastly different skills, to be included when the matchup dictates. Golden State’s closing lineup and postseason identity are forming before our eyes.
Series Takeaways for the Grizzlies
Warriors in 6 was a commonly-predicted outcome for this series at the beginning. That result ends up being a testament to the fortitude of the Grizzlies in light of Morant’s injury. The Warriors beat Memphis in this series but didn’t dominate despite Morant’s absence. The Grizzlies’ athleticism and knowledge of the Warriors’ offense made them a heavy weight to bear (sorry) for Golden State.
The advantages that led to so many turnovers and transition opportunities didn’t translate on the glass, however. The Warriors had the rebounding advantage in both Game 4 and 6, despite Adams’ return as a starter. The 70-44 rebounding disadvantage in Game 6 is especially painful considering the team was down one with 6:30 left in the fourth. Memphis’ diligence taking away the Warriors’ passing lanes needed to transfer to boxing out.
Memphis will absolutely use this opportunity to better themselves. Their young players will improve as well; Jackson’s fouling and Brooks’ shot selection are two examples of issues that can get better with time.
Next Steps for the Warriors
It’s imperative Golden State get as healthy as possible. The Warriors beat Memphis without Porter but will need his presence as a 6’8” rebounder and shooter next round. If Andre Iguodala is physically able to return, all the better. Payton was initially ruled out until at least the Finals, and the Warriors’ perimeter defense will be tested in Conference Finals against Dallas.
Luka Dončić and the Mavericks present a much different challenge than Memphis. Morant was a speedy, athletic point guard who relentlessly attacked the paint, but Dončić is an even tougher test. He’s incredibly strong and methodical, content to bludgeon smaller defenders in the post and pull smooth step-back threes over bigger players. Thompson and Wiggins will alternate guarding Dončić, and expect Green to take the assignment in crunch time.
Jalen Brunson and Game 7 hero Spencer Dinwiddie provide supplemental scoring. The Mavs morphed into a strong defensive unit with size and mobility at all positions during the regular season. That helped Dallas win the season series against the Warriors 3-1, although Green played in only one of those games.
Next Steps for the Grizzlies
Nothing for Memphis is as important as Morant’s health. Their focus next season should be managing his minutes to keep him healthy for the playoffs. He only averaged 33.1 this regular season, which is a reasonable total. But Morant missed 10 games down the stretch with knee issues and was sidelined while the Warriors beat Memphis. Morant will surely be getting a max extension on his rookie contract this summer despite those health issues.
Memphis’ front office could use this season to trade players they don’t view as long-term fits. Brooks and Adams could find themselves in different uniforms next offseason. Alternatively, they could try to package some quality young players with future draft picks and try to trade for a wing scorer. Memphis should show interest in Jerami Grant, Bogdan Bogdanović, and restricted free agent Miles Bridges. Kyle Anderson and Tyus Jones are their significant free agents. Memphis has roughly $20 million in cap space and can expect to re-sign one of those players.
Memphis is fortunate to be young, deep, and extremely talented; they can use next regular season to experiment. Give Ziaire Williams more offensive creation responsibility during the season. His rookie year suggests his ceiling as a player is Paul George, and they have similar rookie-season roles and stats. Jackson and Bane suggest more offensive potential, as well. Memphis will need internal improvement and health from Morant to capitalize on their postseason experience.
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