The past is hard to erase. The memories etched across history are impossible to scrub free as new rules and stories are freshly written. Charles Barkley is Exhibit A, Z, and everything in between when it comes to understanding the past and how it's relevant to the present. So, of course, the Memphis Grizzlies are the old man's team, the guys who played in the 1980s and 1990s, when I was zero years old and basketball was often relegated to grown men throwing hissy fit punches at each other in frustration. Toughness personified, everyone admitted.
Flash forward to 2015 and basketball is beautiful. Athletes are cutting at breakneck speeds, flinging the ball all around the court, exploiting every single inch and showing off the most talented humans in the world in their sanctuary. The Golden State Warriors exemplify 2015 basketball. The Memphis Grizzlies are your dad's favorite basketball team.
The Grizzlies aren't a necessarily dirty team. Marc Gasol patrols the paint, Tony Allen anchors the perimeter, and Zach Randolph gets in your head. These are problematic things, especially when teams try to enact some half-baked version in 2015 of the Jordan Rules on Stephen Curry. There will be hard fouls, lots of arm-grabbing, and tons of trashtalk between the two sides. The Grizzlies thrive on nasty. Gasol is Big Spain. Beno Udrih is the Midrange Marauder. Zach Randolph is ZBO. Tony Allen has perhaps the greatest nickname in basketball, the Grindfather. They play in front of a delirious crowd that collectively chants "Whoop dat trick" until their throats go numb. The Grizzlies are ugly on offense, will hit you in the mouth on defense, and win in the ugliest way possible. They are the 1990s.
And on the opposite side of the spectrum, the Warriors are a perfectly filtered Instagram post of an airy forest in the middle of nowhere. Gorgeous, lucid, and unadulteratedly colorful. The ball moves, shots are consistently taken and made from past 22 feet, and the Warriors don't play with an overtly nasty streak (albeit they have their own way of arrogance about them) like the Grizzlies.
The series pits the past and the present, with both perhaps looking at their best chance at a championship. While the styles clash, both sides are looking at their best opportunity for immortality. But before we head for the collision course on Sunday afternoon, I will break down what we should be watching for on offense and defense. To the tape!
Things to look for on offense:
Contrary to what some might think, I don't think the Warriors will dominate on the offensive end. They will score a lot on the 4th-best defensive team in the league but it'll come mostly through defensive stops and transition runs. I'll talk more about that later but here is one thing that might worry you if you're pulling for the Warriors.
Tony Allen and the Grizzlies' ability to skin-crawl. We know that Curry is unguardable against most teams, and especially in 1-4 pick-and-rolls where Zach Randolph barely even tries to come out. Curry will unfurl his shot as quickly as Allen zips through screens. What the Warriors will have to fight through is Allen's ability to make life hard for the world's greatest scorers. He gave Kevin Durant hell through their playoff battles the past couple seasons and he'll look to do the same against Curry.
If there is one Curry weakness, it's length. This is where Mike Conley Jr's absence hurts Memphis in a multitude of ways. They can't bother Curry without contorting their defense in different ways. If Allen sticks on Curry, the rest suffers, and vice versa. One thing Memphis will try to do is make this game as grit-and-grindy as possible. There will be hard fouls, arm-grabbing, and the perpetual escort of Curry into the hardwood. Cooler heads will have to prevail because players like Patrick Beverley and Roy Hibbert have baited the Warriors into suspension-waiting-to-happen plays. Steve Kerr will warn Green and Bogut of this. Human instinct will be to protect the team's best player when trouble awaits. They'll just have to be careful about it.
Andrew Bogut has talked all season about the beauty of a flowing offense. The reason the Grizzlies are scary on defense is when teams start iso-ing, like the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the opposing teams fails to move Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph around. The San Antonio Spurs torture the Grizzlies seemingly every postseason because they move the Grizz defense and make them work. The Warriors will look to do the same as Bogut has gotten to show his passing wares and Draymond Green can destroy defense with quick cuts and dives off PNRs.
Things to look for on defense:
Green spent most of this season taking on Marc Gasol while Andrew Bogut negated Randolph's strength and bully factor. It's a nice tweak that Steve Kerr exploited and essentially stonewalled the Grizz offense. Bogut can hang with Randolph with his size and Gasol isn't the back-down post player that Randolph, or even his brother, is. That allows the rest of the Warriors to fly around, tip passes, and rebound before running in transition. It gets even worse for the Grizzlies when they have to play Tony Allen because someone like Stephen Curry or Harrison Barnes can freely double — or what I call the Kobe Bryant defense — blatantly dare Allen to shoot.
The back-breaking and most important aspect of the game I'll be watching for is the transition awareness of both teams. The Warriors are built to crush the lack of spacing the Grizzlies struggle with. Courtney Lee is a streaky shooter, Conley is hurt, and there is not much left beyond the bones of Vince Carter and some type of Beno Udrih magic. Dave Joerger might even opt to play Jeff Green at the four to spice up the spacing but Kerr is likely to combat that by going to his vaunted small-ball lineup with Green at the 5. The chess game will be fun to watch, but the transition advantage the Warriors have over the plodding Grizzlies should be the death knell on the series.
And here's a bold prediction for you: I think David Lee gets his Barry Zito moment -— the shocking point in a destined postseason run by an overpaid, end of the roster player that turns around a game.
Prediction: GSW in 5