Having had two days of rest — a luxury in the grit and grind that is the NBA regular season — the Warriors were expected to come out of the gates firing nuclear missiles against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Instead of rest, the Warriors showed rust.
In the first quarter — and pretty much for most of the first half — the Warriors were forced to play at a pace that the Grizzlies favored. Coming into Monday night’s game, the Grizzlies had a paltry 96.81 possessions per game, good for 29th in the league, per NBA.com. The only chance the Grizzlies had at keeping up with the Warriors was to slow the game down, and slow down the game they did.
Curry struggles, but contributes in other ways
Stephen Curry, in particular, struggled to get anything going in the first half. At halftime, he had a stat line of 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists, on a 2-of-9 shooting clip. Curry was bound to have one night where his rhythm gets disrupted; the Grizzlies, to their credit, played incredible defense on him, and they made it very difficult for Curry to get any sort of space to go up for shots.
At the end of the night, Curry finished with a decent stat line — 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists — but shot poorly overall, having a 6-of-17 shooting clip.
Despite his mediocre shooting night, Curry had a few notable highlights, one of which displayed his propensity to create shots for his other teammates.
In this sequence, Curry creates a scoring opportunity for Klay Thompson without even touching the ball:
Curry sets a backscreen on Thompson’s man, blindsiding him and allowing Thompson to cut to the basket for the easy layup.
Curry also had a couple of notable defensive plays. In this first sequence, he takes a page out of Draymond Green’s ability to contest shots:
Curry gets an excellent close-out on the shooter, and as the cherry-on-top, he also manages to get a piece of the ball, which forces it to touch nothing but air.
Another defensive highlight for Curry came as the third quarter came to a close. The Grizzlies manage to sneak an outlet pass behind the Warriors’ last line of defense. Curry, however, has the last word:
Curry goes straight up and gets the swipe on the ball to deny the Grizzlies a quarter-ending basket. This time, the classic Curry adrenaline rush doesn’t come from being an unstoppable force — instead, it comes from being an immovable object.
Durant’s scoring helps keep the Warriors in the game
Curry may have struggled in terms of shooting, but the Warriors have four all-stars on the team for a reason — when one all-star has a rough time on the offensive end, the others are expected to pick up the slack. Klay Thompson finished the first half with 18 points, while Kevin Durant finished with 16.
Durant, in particular, flourished in the slow-paced nature of the game. He is the kind of scorer who is highly dependable in a game overtaken by defensive suffocation, as evidenced by his excellent performances in the playoffs, where the pace often devolves into a snail-like crawl.
Save for one basket where Durant gets a transition layup off of a turnover, most of his first half points came from catch-and-shoot mid-range jumpers off of a curl, mismatches against smaller and shorter defenders on the post, and getting to the free-throw line due to his mastery of drawing contact. It is these kinds of situations where Durant is the most reliable. When the Warriors’ free-flowing motion offense is ground to a halt, as the Grizzlies managed to do in the first half, an elite and versatile scorer such as Durant is all the more valuable.
Despite the Grizzlies shooting well courtesy of a laissez-faire approach to defense in the first half, the Warriors managed to even the score up at halftime, 58-all. Entering the third quarter, the Warriors were without one of their four all-stars, and in a game where they needed to clamp down on defense and turn up their offensive production, losing their best defender and playmaker was a dire development.
Draymond Green (right foot contusion) will not return to tonight's game.— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) November 6, 2018
The Warriors’ third quarter rampage begins
The third quarter begins with Curry making two shots in a row: a mid-range jumper, and a transition layup. However, the Grizzlies keep it close by making a three-point shot. Kevon Looney checks in early for the foul-plagued Damian Jones.
In the following sequence, Durant handles the ball and looks for an opening in the Grizzlies defense. Take note of Kevon Looney in this possession:
Durant draws the attention of two defenders, most notably the attention of Marc Gasol, who is slightly drawn out of the paint in case Durant manages to get past his defender. This leaves Looney all alone under the basket. Durant recognizes this, and makes a great pass to Looney for a wide-open dunk.
Thompson delivers on defense
Meanwhile, Thompson begins to make his mark on the defensive end. These possessions aren’t particularly flashy, nor are they often noticed as crucial to a team’s success. But they are often the catalysts for an offensive explosion on the other end of the floor.
Thompson gets switched onto Gasol. Despite the size mismatch, Thompson possesses the strength to stand his ground, and Gasol is forced to pass out of the post after failing to back Thompson down. A few possessions later, Thompson shadows Mike Conley, fights through screens, and excellently shuffles his feet to suffocate Conley and force the turnover.
Durant creates plays, while Looney finishes them
Off of a dead-ball situation, the Warriors try to run a sideline out-of-bounds play. Kerr makes a twisting motion with his fist, and also calls the play “Twist”:
“Twist” happens to be a simple pick-and-roll involving Durant and Looney. Durant inbounds the ball to Thompson, who hands it off immediately to Durant. He immediately gets a screen from Looney. The quick-hitting nature of the play forces the defense to make split-second rotations; Durant draws two defenders onto him, including Gasol, which leaves the rolling Looney uncovered. He receives the pass from Durant, goes up, and is fouled.
The following sequence is a testament to Looney’s hustle and work ethic. He manages to get not one, but two offensive boards:
Durant drives inside and draws the attention of three defenders, once again leaving Looney all alone under the basket. He receives the pass from Durant, misses the point-blank shot, then rebounds his own miss. He hands it off to Thompson, who misses the three. With two defenders caught ball-watching, Looney goes back up to rebound the miss, then puts the ball in the hoop.
With the Warriors getting into a bit of an offensive groove, Curry feeds Durant on the left block, seemingly setting up Durant to isolate on the post. However, they run a simple off-ball action on the weak side:
Looney sets an excellent pin down screen for Thompson, who knocks down the three to gain further separation from the Grizzlies.
Looney continues to make his presence known. Off of a dead-ball situation, he sets another off-ball pin down screen, this time for Curry:
Curry’s gravity comes in handy once again, as his curl — coupled with Looney’s screen — makes the defender have to chase and scramble to keep up with him. This forces Gasol to pay attention to Curry’s drive, while a rolling Looney goes unnoticed yet again. He receives the pinpoint bounce pass from Curry, and makes the layup.
Durant takes over
After an Alfonzo McKinnie jumper and a Curry three stretches the lead to ten, Durant decides that it’s his turn to take over offensively. He makes two jumpers in succession — both mismatches against the smaller Conley — and all of a sudden, the lead grows to fourteen.
At this point, the Grizzlies are reeling from the vintage third quarter Warrior rampage. In this sequence, Durant once again elects to be a playmaker. The Warriors run one of their common read-and-react sets:
Durant gets the ball on the post, while Looney shows a screen for Curry, slips the screen at the last minute, and cuts inside. Durant makes a well-timed bounce pass to Looney for the layup — a classic dive/pop action, as our very own Apricot would describe it.
And lastly, the cherry to top it all off: a transition three from McKinnie, who knocks it down despite Curry being open. Steph who?
With a final score of 117-101, the Warriors were able to close out a tough Grizzlies team. For two and a half quarters, the Grizzlies were able to make the Warriors uncomfortable on offense. But in the end, the firepower of the Warriors was just too much. Despite the loss of Green due to injury, the Warriors were able to adjust by making Curry and Durant the primary playmakers — an adjustment that worked wonders.
Warriors close a +19 third quarter blitz with another McKinnie 3 (...dude is now 12/19 from 3 this season) and a Steph Curry swat and taunt.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 6, 2018
The Warriors are currently riding an eight-game winning streak. With the Milwaukee Bucks coming into town — led by MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo and a brand-new system and culture brought about by Mike Budenholzer — the Warriors will have their hands full. They will need to be focused and well-prepared to defeat the upstarts from Wisconsin.
After taming the bear, it’s time for the Warriors to go deer hunting. Thursday can’t come soon enough.
Eleven down, 71 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.