The Golden State Warriors saw their season come to an abrupt end Friday night in a heartbreaking 117-112 overtime loss to the upstart Memphis Grizzlies. The Warriors trailed nearly the entire game, overcoming a 17-point deficit to tie the game in the final minute of regulation. But the young Grizzlies withstood the charge and held on to earn the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Here are five things we learned from Golden State’s season-ending defeat:
Steph can’t do it alone
Stephen Curry didn’t have his best game, but he still played well enough to win, leading all scorers with 39 points on 13-of-28 shooting with five assists, four rebounds and three steals. The problem was that no one else scored more than 22 points, despite the Grizzlies constantly double and even triple-teaming Curry. The Warriors’ lack of offensive depth was especially evident on the final possession of regulation when Memphis forced the ball out of Curry’s hands early. He found a wide open Draymond Green darting toward the basket in the final seconds, but Green couldn’t finish at the rim. Jordan Poole did step up to make three 3-pointers in the game, but the rest of Curry’s teammates shot just 3 for 14 from beyond the arc, even though most of the looks were open.
Ja is special
On the other side, Grizzlies second-year guard Ja Morant introduced himself to a national audience as a truly special talent. At just 21 years old, Morant led Memphis with 35 points, six assists, six rebounds and four steals. Perhaps most impressively, he came up with two clutch baskets in the last minute of overtime to silence a raucous Chase Center crowd and put the final nails in Golden State’s coffin. Morant shot 5 of 10 from 3-point range, despite finishing the regular season at just 30 percent from distance. The young star went toe-to-toe with Curry on a postseason stage and came out on top.
Turnovers too much to overcome
After committing 20 turnovers in Wednesday’s loss to the Lakers, the Warriors surpassed that with 21 on Friday. Once again, their sloppy play cost them a chance at the playoffs. Those 21 turnovers resulted in 22 Memphis points, compared to Golden State’s 12 points off 15 Grizzlies turnovers. Worst of all, it was the Warriors’ veteran leaders who were most guilty, with Curry and Green combining to turn the ball over 13 times. That’s just far too many miscues in a must-win game.
Grizzlies defend to near perfection
If we’re going to criticize the Warriors for their excessive turnovers, it’s only fair that we give credit to the Grizzlies for a masterful defensive performance. Head coach Taylor Jenkins and his staff prepared a terrific game plan and the players executed it beautifully. Morant and Dillon Brooks made Curry’s life miserable by face-guarding him and denying him the ball. When Curry did get possession, Memphis trapped him with multiple long defenders and forced him to either pass or take an extremely difficult shot. The Grizzlies finished the game with 14 steals and six blocked shots, limiting the Warriors to just 35 percent from 3-point range.
‘They are who we thought they were’
To quote the late football coach Dennis Green, the Warriors ended up being exactly who we thought they were all season long. This was an inconsistent, often undermanned squad that showed flashes of brilliance thanks to Curry. The team could never quite maintain a high level of play for long and their up-and-down nature finally got the best of them Friday. Golden State dug itself an immediate hole, falling behind 18-6 less than four minutes into the game. From there, it was an uphill climb for the rest of the night. While the Warriors did eventually battle back, the slow start took the crowd out of the game and gave the young Grizzlies confidence.
Now the Warriors head into the offseason earlier than they had hoped. The good news, of course, is that they will have some major reinforcements next year with the expected return of Klay Thompson and James Wiseman. But next year is tough to think about right now when there was so much more to accomplish this season.