Somehow the Golden State Warriors found a way to finish off the Memphis Grizzlies and punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals. After an embarrassing Game 5 loss, the Warriors answered with a 110-96 victory on their home floor to clinch a 4-2 series victory.
The Warriors inserted Kevon Looney into the starting lineup for Jonathan Kuminga, who has only played sparingly throughout this series. While some fans clamored for Jordan Poole to start, acting head coach Mike Brown opted to go for Looney’s size. Looney delivered arguably the best performance of his career.
The Dubs jumped out to a 16-8 lead, but several unforced turnovers opened the door for Dillon Brooks to shoot the Grizzlies back into the game. That sequence would repeat itself time and time again.
The Warriors led 30-26 at the end of the first quarter, but their lead could have easily been extended to double-digits. Klay Thompson was already flashing the “Game 6 Klay” heroics that probably punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame, but the Dubs turnovers were holding them back.
Brooks once again decided to antagonize the Warriors and their fans. Off a missed shot, Brooks grabbed Curry across his shoulders and pulled him to the ground. Thompson immediately got in Brooks’ face, and each of them were assessed technical fouls even though Brooks walked away from Thompson. The referees decided to review the play and rightfully assessed Brooks with a flagrant 1.
The Warriors should have at least had a double-digit lead at halftime. They played exceptional defense in the first half and shot 40.7% from behind the arc, but abysmal efficiency on two-point shots (7-for-25) and their continued turnover woes (11 in the first half) left the door open for Memphis. Golden State led just 53-51.
The third quarter was more of the same. Thompson seemed to be going nuclear early, nailing three consecutive shots, including a heavily contested midrange jumper, but the Warriors relented to Memphis’ defensive focus and were unable to lean into Klay in the way Dub Nation has become accustomed. Rather than pulling away, Golden State retained just a single-digit lead. Then came even more turnovers.
Golden State had a comical sequence halfway through the quarter, throwing errant passes on three out of four possessions. Without their top scorer, the Grizzlies needed the Dubs to string together several empty possessions to chip away at the lead. They were getting it. They briefly took the lead before the end of the third, but the Warriors led 78-77 heading into the final quarter.
The Warriors finally slowed things down over the final 12 minutes of regulation and reeled in their turnovers. But asking the Grizzlies to keep up with them offensively for just one quarter was a far easier task than requiring it for 48 minutes. Golden State seemed to miss their opportunities to pull away, and Brooks — who will probably haunt Dub Nation for years to come — found his shot once again, nailing a step-back corner three over Andrew Wiggins to make it a one-possession game. Then Desmond Bane added another triple to give Memphis an 89-87 lead with 6:55 left in regulation.
The response did not come from Thompson, or Curry, or Draymond Green. It was Andrew Wiggins. It was the only Warrior player ever consistently considered a bust. It was the only Warriors starter on Friday who has not won an NBA championship.
The shot clock was winding down, and Wiggins knocked down a pull-up three. He stole the ball from Brooks on the following possession and turned it into an easy dunk. Then, another Brooks miss put Golden State in transition where Curry was left alone on the right wing.
The Warriors paradox is the juxtaposition of such amazing and ugly basketball. Every possession has the potential to be a beautiful display of ball movement that ends in a three-point swish. Every possession also feels like it has the potential for someone to chuck an inaccurate pass into the stands.
Golden State’s offense was ugly outside of Thompson’s shooting for three and a half quarters, but the switch was hit. Wiggins delivered a big basket while forcing two huge stops that culminated in a Steph Curry swish, putting the Warriors up six. In this game, six points felt like 16.
Looney capped off his amazing performance with multiple offensive rebounds in the closing minutes, including one that set up Thompson for one final dagger three. Looney played 35 minutes, scored just 4 points, but grabbed 22 rebounds (11 offensive).
Thompson scored a team-high 30 points on 11-for-22 shooting from the field. Curry finished with an inefficient 29 points, which primarily came as the Warriors finally put the game away in the final minutes.
Still, there’s a case to be made that Wiggins was their most valuable player. He played 41 minutes of tenacious defense, primarily against Brooks, and recorded 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 block. Wiggins has been criticized for inconsistent effort and a tendency to disappear throughout his career, but he was everywhere on Friday.
The Warriors now have a little bit of time to rest. No matter what, they will have more rest than their Western Conference Finals opponent. They will face the winner of Game 7 between the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, which will take place on Sunday, May 15th in Phoenix at 5:00 PM Pacific. If the Suns win that game, the Warriors will head to Phoenix for Games 1 and 2. If the Mavs win, the Dubs will host the first two games of the series.