For long suffering Warriors fans who lived through the Chris Cohan era, survived the Gary St. Jean years and remained loyal through the Chris Webber fiasco...thinking negatively comes naturally.
So as a gesundheit quickly follows a sneeze, panic wasn't hard to find following back-to-back losses at Oracle and FedEx Forum, which left the heavily favored Warriors staring at a 2-1 series deficit, without the benefit of home court advantage.For a fan base riding high all season to a tune of a franchise record 67-wins, last week's back-to-back losses to Memphis showed just how quickly Golden State fans could go 60-to-0.
So let's give the pessimistic fans a break, if only this one time. After Monday's wire-to-wire victory in Memphis, optimism is widespread in Dubland, and everyone is seemingly back on the bandwagon.
In cruising to a comfortable 101-84 win, the Warriors once again looked like the Championship favorite of yesterweek. Their shooting stroke finally returned after a two game hiatus, as the Splash Brothers and company shot near 50% from the field, basically from start to finish. More importantly, the coaching staff had an answer for Tony "FIRST TEAM DEFENSE" Allen, who had his way with Klay Thompson earlier in the series.
Rather than play the Grizzlies straight up, the Warriors did something clever -- if not outright daring. They switched to a 5-on-4 defense, and opted to ignore Tony Allen entirely. Officially, the small forward was "defended" by either Andrew Bogut or Draymond Green, either of whom would play center field in the paint for the possession, ignoring Tony Allen no matter where he went. Meanwhile, Harrison Barnes would defend the much larger Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph, with a healthy defensive assist from the center fielder.
In other words, the Dubs deployed a kind of zone defense, which saw one big, such as Bogut, roam the paint and help out on any threat in sight. At once, the Warriors were able to pack the paint and defend the perimeter with their best defenders: a defensive coup that's akin to legally playing a sixth man. Despite Golden State's hot shooting, it was their coaching and defense that all but decided this game in the first quarter.
Memphis was faced with a classic damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario. They could leave their best defender, Tony Allen on the court to try and defend the Warriors, while crushing their own offense; or, they could sub out Allen for a more credible offensive threat (Jeff Green) who can't defend as effectively.
Memphis actually opted for the offensive specialist fairly early, and got outscored anyway on the strength of Golden State's hot start (or Memphis' putrid start, depending on your perspective). Per our friends at SBnation.com:
Meanwhile, the Warriors allowed just 70.5 points per 100 possessions in Bogut's 30 minutes on the floor, per NBA.com. The Grizzlies shot 37.5 percent from the field for the game, but that number was a woeful 30 percent with Bogut on the court. Memphis shot 39 percent in the paint and committed 16 turnovers with Bogut and the rest of the Warriors' defense swarming everywhere.
That 70.5 points per 100 possessions is good for about 64.9 points per game, if you're the Grizzlies. While the Warriors will remain confident that they can outscore that figure in game five, they'll also need to be wary of a Memphis coaching staff that has proven capable in the past.
Will we see Jeff Green enter the starting lineup in Tony Allen's normal small forward position? Or will the Dubs abandon their "Grindfather" plan and only deploy it occasionally to gum up the Grizzlies' engine? Or will one of the stars simply perform so masterfully that it makes the strategy moot? Or maybe the Grizzlies will find Gasol and Randolph in the post so much, that they're able to overpower the smaller Warriors?
All those questions and more will be answered, starting at 7:30PM PST. Win or lose, it's not the final game of the series. But a win tonight would put the Warriors on the brink of their first Western Conference Finals in 40 years. Not to mention ease the up-and-down blood pressure level of millions of nervous fans.