Near the end of the Golden State Warriors' Game 3 loss in Memphis on Saturday night, a friend who had not been watching — and who may or may not be bandwagoning their way through the season — texted to ask for some sort of deep analysis of the game, I suppose.
"The Warriors are just sucking," which was my restrained alternative to the far more absurd thing that I had been feeling throughout the game ("the Warriors suck.").
At this point, with the game about to end and me trying to juggle a few GSoM related things, all I could think of was what Gregg Popovich had told the media after the San Antonio Spurs' Game 1 loss to the L.A. Clippers.
You're serious? You want me to... We have to do lots of things better. It's basketball... You're kidding. We have to shoot free-throws better, we have to shoot from three better, we can't turn it over as much, we have to get back in transition better. Does that help?
Then I actually sent exactly that text, complete with citation and a link for reference.
I fully admit that I can be insufferable jerk after Warriors games, the type who can allow losses to ruin their day and yet is rarely fully satisfied by wins. An old friend in Seattle, a city without a team, once joked that the powers that be made me a Warriors fan as punishment for being a generally hyper-critical person. Friends who don't know I'm probably trying to juggle a few GSoM things after games get a pass; this friend was aware and got no such grace.
Nevertheless, I think Pop's response about his team was actually an apt description for what happened to the Warriors in Game 3 and probably frames what we need to see in Game 4 as well.
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Everybody seems to be looking for a single magic bullet solution for the Golden State Warriors' problems in the last two games, one key adjustment that can be fixed in two days time to win Game 4 and keep this from truly reaching a crisis state.
That includes the Warriors themselves, which Gary Parrish of CBS Sports described well.
And though the Warriors tipped their metaphorical hats to Memphis and conceded the Grizzlies dictated the pace and physicality of things, they essentially chalked it up to shots that normally fall simply not falling.
"We're not going to overreact to one bad shooting night," Curry said [after Game 1].
But what about two bad shooting nights?
Because Game 3, in that regard, looked a lot like Game 2. And by a lot like Game 2, I mean exactly like Game 2...It's the worst two-game stretch they've had, and suggesting it's just a coincidence -- you know, just unfortunate timing -- seems silly.
I understand the impulse to simplify things here — simplicity has its benefits and, yes, the Warriors have missed a number of looks we're used to seeing them make (no matter how ridiculous they've been).
Yet, to Parrish's point that blaming consecutive games on coincidence seems silly, Curry's Game 3 assessment that Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News published as part of his presser transcript might have been spot on.
They got deflections. Driving lanes that weren't really open. That's what set the tone the first half...They try to take away clean looks from three, whether it's in transition or in the half-court...Off-the-ball, I haven't gotten many opportunities, but we'll look at a lot of film tomorrow and see where those can come.
Obviously, the shooting has been a problem for the Warriors. But it's just flat out silly to reduce these last two games to that. What we've seen in Games 2 and 3 is a system failure — they were confronted with a situation that they just weren't able to respond to for one reason or another.
Despite terrible shooting over two games, it's also clear that the turnovers have been a problem. Yet it's just as silly to reduce all that struggle to their turnovers: many of them are coming as players are trying to operate outside of their comfort zone when nothing else is working. Early in Game 3, they seemed to be deliberately pushing the pace but that just resulted in a string of no-pass possessions, which is no more their game than missing all those threes.
You know how people talk about a whole being more than the sum of its parts? In the last two games, multiple parts have been shorting out at once and the parts seem to be scattered in different directions at times — there's nothing coherent going on there. The Grizzlies have created this breakdown and have exploited that lack of poise.
Defensively, Steve Kerr has now admitted that it needs to be better after initially saying it isn't the problem.
One rhetorical course correction from Kerr, who said yesterday that GSW defense isn't the problem. Today he said it hasn't been good enough.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) May 10, 2015
Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph hitting multiple long jumpers is something this unit should be OK with — he was 4-for-4 outside the paint and inside the arc in Game 3 — but when you can't deny the entry pass, can't stop them from establishing low post position, and can't seem to rotate out to shooters fast enough you've got major problems.
But even reducing the problem to points in the paint is flawed: in Game 2, Randolph and Marc Gasol did quite a bit of damage from shooting jumpers — in stark contrast to what the Warriors are doing, the Grizzlies just always seem to come up with answers.
Combined Game 2 shot chart for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
And heaven help us all if this team can't figure out how to defend pick and rolls.
All of that is why I really liked the look of Klay Thompson guarding Mike Conley in Game 3: that seemed to be the only point where the Warriors could successfully apply pressure on the Grizzlies and at least make them work for points. Then he picked up his fourth foul in the third, Memphis went on a 16-6 run, and the lead ballooned to 18 points with just under a minute left in the third.
As the Grizzlies have seemed to have an answer for everything, the Warriors have been scrambling for answers. And while the Warriors have lost their poise in consecutive games, the Grizzlies did just enough in that time to exploit that for wins.
There's actually room for hope in that narrative and it begins with all of the major players being present, physically and mentally.
Just to get this out of the way: for anyone thinking that David Lee playing more in Marreese Speights' absence is going to make a difference, I'm simply going to refer you back to this old interview with Bill Simmons and move on. Kerr's reluctance to play him is neither the problem nor part of the solution.
Yet, without getting too Charles Barkley on you, as the Warriors are a perimeter-oriented team they have to out play their perimeter counterparts and that means finding a way to deal with the defense of Mike Conley and Tony Allen. Curry's point that he's struggled to find shots off the ball is an important point: Grizzlies defenders just aren't giving the Warriors any room to breathe. And with Curry largely ineffective and Thompson completely out of sorts with Allen all over him, that's a huge problem that's at the core of why they've looked so discombobulated: other players are trying to make plays to make up for the Splash Brothers' struggles and it's just not working.
I think everyone knew that Conley returning to the action would make a huge difference, but I'm not sure we anticipated it being this big of a deal (or Thompson playing this poorly with Allen harassing him). Offensively, the coaching challenge is going to be finding ways to help the backcourt remain poised in the face of all the Grizzlies are throwing at them. Defensively, it's about trying to do a better job of making Gasol and Randolph jumpshooters again.
And if there's any hope for recovery in the last two games, it may in fact be the small ball lineup Kerr used in the fourth quarter of Game 3: relying mostly on Curry, Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, the Warriors won the fourth quarter 25-20 and showed flashes of looking like a team. That lineup has more ball handlers to deal with the Grizzlies' pressure and is a little bit faster at rotating defensively. Whether you concede or double the post becomes less relevant as long as Barnes and Green are fighting the good fight and preventing Gasol and Randolph from establishing low position so they're taking contested jumpers.
Yet even that brings us right back to the original problem: we still don't know whether the Warriors can sustain that kind of play for 48 minutes and they dug themselves such a massive hole outside of that period that we don't know if that's the answer to avoiding holes.
There's hope in that fourth quarter performance, for sure, but if the problem is poise the question is whether they can string that out for a longer period (or long enough period) of time.
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Although I can definitely be a jerk when Warriors things aren't going my way, I'd say I was mostly frustrated after Game 3 because the Warriors simply did not seem to have any answers for the Grizzlies as they managed to get down by 19 points in the second half. And when a team you've inexplicably invested so much emotion in appears to be without answers, you're left feeling exponentially more helpless because you've opened yourself up to a bad situation that you have no control over.
That, of course, is also why we love sports: surrendering yourself to something that completely has enormous benefits when your team recovers from the lows of adversity, especially because the actual consequences to your life aren't all that significant.