The back and forth slugfest had the air of a playoff game, and neither team pulled away in any significant fashion until the Warriors established a double digit lead with less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors set the defensive tone for the game early and forced two straight turnovers on the Grizzlies first two half court sets. Zach Randolph started in place of the injured Marc Gasol and proved to be a matchup problem for both Zaza Pachulia and Draymond Green. Randolph was able to use his midrange game and considerable size advantage in the post to find his offense early, and he would finish the night with 15 points on 64 percent shooting from inside the arc (he missed all four of his three point attempts).
Mike Conley played an outstanding game, and the Grizzlies looked like a different team with him on the court. Not particularly known as a scorer, he nevertheless finish the game with the Grizzlies high of 29 points. His six assists were offset by six turnovers, but arguably his greatest imprint on the game was his knack for creating, or in this case slowing, the tempo of the game. He did not back down from the challenge of guarding and going against Stephen Curry, as he hit a number of tough shots despite close defense from the two-time MVP.
In the preview for this game, I identified the potential for a Klay Thompson bounce-back game, as he had an anomalous shooting night agains the Sacramento Kings and failed to register double-digit points. He bounced all the way back, and then some, as he posted a game-high 31 points, hitting seven of his 11 three-point attempts. 12 of his points came in the third quarter, as he hit three back-to-back-to-back threes to give the Warriors a lift. After opening the night making just two of his seven shots, he rattled off nine straight makes in a row before missing. He also played great defense, trapping Conley along the baseline several times.
While Klay lead the team in points, the MVP of this game was Andre Iguodala, who played his best game of the season. Iguodala had shown flashes, even stringing together some longer stretches in previous games, but tonight was his most complete outing thus far, and a great sign for the Warriors heading into the playoffs. He would finish the night with 20 points on just eight shots, adding seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block with no turnovers. Beyond the statline, the former NBA Finals MVP looked springy and active, pushing the ball with speed in the break to create tempo while putting the exclamation mark on several offensive possessions with his signature tomahawk jam.
Stephen Curry’s “quiet night” should not be overlooked, as it is clear he is adjusting his game in anticipation of Kevin Durant’s return to the lineup. Curry finished with 21 points, 11 assists, and four steals. Though his five turnovers still represent room for improvement, the two time MVP showed up when it mattered, providing critical offense in the fourth quarter and answering the challenge of Conley, who seemingly outplayed Steph in the matchup until the final frame. There was an imperceptible amount of hesitation on some of Curry’s shots, especially ones that Warriors fans have become accustomed to seeing let loose with little time, but he still made five of his 12 three point attempts, and hit one impossible turn-around fadeaway running bank shot.
This makes two straight games with double-digit assists for Stephen Curry, and there is an observable shift in his game when he looks to distribute first. With Durant’s return imminent, the former unanimous MVP knows he must balance between his responsibilities as the engine of the offense as a playmaker and as a scorer. The good news is he has hit a stride, as his adjustment to more distribution makes for a seamless re-integration of Durant into the offense.
The biggest draw from this game was the Warriors continued commitment to defense. The 94 points allowed to the Grizzlies is the lowest of the season series, and the strangulation of the Memphis offense in the fourth quarter was the turning point of the game. The Grizzlies scored just 13 in the fourth and this marks the sixth straight game in which the Warriors have held opponents to 100 or under. The game prior to that streak was a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in which the Sixers scored 104. Defense creates offensive opportunities and the Warriors switch-heavy system, which requires chemistry and communication, is finally coming into full force leading into the playoffs.