The Golden State Warriors headed home for Game Three of their second-round series with the Memphis Grizzlies with a new attitude, a new starting lineup, and a new defensive plan for Ja Morant. And for six minutes, it blew up in their faces. They sagged off Morant, and he hit two three-pointers, while Memphis hit six of their first eight triples. New starter Jonathan Kuminga turned the ball over three times and the team gave the ball away six times on the way to an early 13-point deficit. After that? No one could stop the Warriors offense besides themselves, as they outscored Memphis by 43 points the rest of the game and won going away, 142-112.
Steph Curry and Jordan Poole led the way with 30 and 27 points respectively, and six different Warriors scored in double figures in a game where the team shot 53% from the field and 63% overall. In the last three quarters they scored 38, 37, and 41 points. For Memphis, Ja Morant scored 34 points before leaving with an apparent knee injury with six minutes left and Memphis trailing by 16 points, while the normally chill Kyle “Slow Mo” Anderson got ejected for two technicals.
It wouldn’t be this incredibly snippy series without a petty war of words on all sides, as Ja Morant posted a video of the play evoking Steve Kerr’s “broke the code” comments about Dillon Brooks after Game Two. Memphis Coach Taylor Jenkins claimed Jordan Poole intentionally injured Morant’s knee after the game, Klay Thompson said the Warriors weren’t trying to hurt anyone or “club people on the back of the head on a fast break,” and somehow a Memphis weatherman ended up the main character on Twitter after posting racist tweets about Draymond Green,
Look, this series should be entertaining, but the ejections, suspensions, and flagrant fouls have served to make fans on both sides turn into, well, Karens. Fans who should be enjoying dunks and threes are sharing slow-motion videos of fouls, demanding suspensions, and asking to speak to reporters’ managers. You know who watches basketball like that? Jeff Van Gundy! Don’t be like Jeff Van Gundy, ignoring all the exciting basketball in front of him to deliver lectures about the “legislation” of basketball. You know what’s really boring? Legislation. Try watching C-SPAN for ten minutes and you’ll be begging for a mid-February Hornets-Kings game.
The game changed when Poole and the game’s unsung hero, Otto Porter Jr. entered with five minutes to go in the first. Memphis scored only five points in the final five minutes and the Warriors started getting to the basket at will, even though they kept turning the ball over. And when Steph Curry hit his first shot of the game - a classic buzzer-beater three where he faked out a closing Brandon Clarke - the Warriors trailed by just two, 28-26.
Porter stepped up even more in the second quarter, hitting his first two triples of the series and going 3-4 from the floor. Poole was also 3-4 with one three, and for the game the “Playoff P’s” (sorry Paul George) were +30 and +33, staggering plus/minus numbers. Poole simply tortured the Grizzlies defense with his handle, on one play collapsing the defense with a drive to the hoop, then backtracking to the arc for a wide-open three, as two Grizzlies leapt at Kevon Looney.
Andrew Wiggins went 3-3 with a three, part of his team-leading 15 points in the first half. For the second straight game, Maple Jordan demolished Brandon Clarke on a running dunk, this time drawing a foul and an and-one.
The Dubs shot a scorching 74% from the floor and made four out of five threes, and only two things kept them from running away with the game: Turnovers, and Ja Morant. The turnovers were frequent and wide-ranging, as the Warriors threw passes away, traveled, stepped out of bounds, and were called for two Draymond Green moving screens. Morant kept up his hot shooting from long-range - he was 4-6 in the first half, and the Grizzlies were 11-23 as a team (though just 5-15 after their hot start). After Wiggins gave the Warriors a 12-points lead with 28 seconds left, Ja hit a layup, and after Draymond’s third foul left him heated about Curry hanging him out to try, Morant hit a miracle half-court bomb to cut the lead to seven.
Memphis is a difficult team to put away, but for whatever reason, they don’t play well in third quarters. Even as they eliminated Minnesota in Round One, they constantly had to dig themselves out of deficits in the final period. The Warriors outscored them by 12 points combined in the first two games, and tonight it was 15. The big push came from Klay Thompson, who was slowly finding his shooting stroke with a 4-6 first half, uncharacteristically taking all his shots inside the arc. That changed in the third. He wasted no time hitting his first three-pointer, drilling one 17 seconds into the second half.
Klay made his second a minute later, both shots coming off assists from Porter, who replaced Kuminga in the starting lineup for the second half. That stretched the lead to 15 points and forced a Memphis timeout. Morant kept scoring, but the Warriors answered each time, and Curry kept getting to the line (6-6 in the quarter). When Klay hit an ultimate heat check three-pointer off one leg, the Warriors led 85-66 and the Grizzlies were reeling.
Even the Ground Bound Mound of Rebound, Kevon Looney, got into the scoring action, going on a personal 4-0 run where he laid in a Curry miss and got a nice pass from Kuminga for another layup and a 23-point lead. Even with Morant scoring 13 points, Memphis lost the quarter 37-23 and trailed by 21.
For the third straight game, the Warriors out-rebounded the Grizzlies, 38-29, and for the series, they have a 17-rebound advantage. A lot of that is thanks to OPJ, who is leading the team in boards (21) even though he’s playing 23 minutes per game. Wiggins is just behind Porter with 20, and according to Draymond, his “physicality and boxing out” is creating even more board opportunities for his teammates. Draymond has 19, and Klay Thompson tripled his previous total of three rebounds with nine tonight. We hate to say Strength In Numbers all the time, but that’s truly how they’re winning the battle on the glass.
Memphis is still a dangerous fourth quarter team, and they came out firing with a Jaren Jackson triple. But then Poole banked in a long three to answer - it was just that kind of a shooting night. JP kept pace with the entire Grizzlies team early, scoring the Warriors’ first nine points of the quarter. At times, he simply ran past the entire Memphis team to get a dunk.
Desmond Bane hit a three to get Memphis within 20, part of a resurgent shooting night for him where he went 4-7 from three. Perhaps the three days off let his ailing back loosen up. Jackson also hit four triples, though he went 0-5 from two-point range. JJJ barely fouled, but part of that was simply the lack of rebounding opportunities when an opponent is shooting that well.
The most controversial play of the game simply didn’t look like anything live and at full speed. Poole and Wiggins blitzed Morant near half court, with Wiggins committing a foul. Honestly, it looked like a bit of a ticky-tack foul, as Wiggins got mostly ball. In the slow-motion replay, you can see Poole and Morant knock knees, and then Poole grabs Ja’s knee as he swipes at the ball. Perhaps I viewed the clip through gold and blue glasses, but the hand contact certainly didn’t look intentional, or like anything that would cause an injury. Nor does it seems like Poole has the hand stretch to casually tear a knee ligament. But I’m also sure it will be endlessly debated until Game Four, because that’s what basketball fans do now.
Seconds later, Kyle Anderson pushed off Poole on a drive to the hoop, and when he was whistled for an offensive foul, he vehemently disagreed. At the same time, he didn’t get in a referee’s face - he complained from a respectful distance, though we can’t know the language he used. When David Guthrie whistled him for a technical, he got furious, as his teammates took turns half-heartedly holding him back before collectively deciding, “You know what? Kyle needs this. Let him argue.”
Curry hit the technicals - he was 14-14 from the line on the night, raising this season’s playoff free-throw average to much more respectable 81%. When Poole drove for another layup, the lead went to 20, and when Curry followed with a deep, no-doubt three, the Grizzlies cleared their bench.
In garbage time, the Warriors rookies went off, with Kuminga pouring in 12 points on a mixture of dunks, threes, and alley-oop layups, while Moses Moody had a dunk and a three of his own. Kuminga finished with 18, and despite some hiccups early, he acquitted himself as the youngest player to start an NBA playoff game in at least 51 years, if not longer.
The Warriors fell one point shy of the franchise record for points in a playoff game, set in 1967 in a 143-136 win over the St. Louis Hawks. Rick Barry had 47 points, and he’d tell you it would have been more if the three-point line existed back then. 30 points is their largest margin of victory in a playoff game since they blew out Houston by 41 in the 2018 Western Conference Finals.
The series obviously looks very different if Morant can’t go Monday night for Game Four, particularly after missing serious time with a “tweaked” knee two months ago. He had 34 points on 21 shots, seven assists, and three steals, all while turning the ball over just twice. They will get Dillon Brooks back for Game Four, giving them a badly-needed extra defender on the perimeter. But if Playoff Klay’s shooting stroke is truly back, it might not matter who’s on the court.