Even though the Warriors trailed the Memphis Grizzlies after three games in the Western Conference semifinals, I felt they were the better team. The elements lacking in their losses in Games 2 and 3 were better offensive execution and a more focused commitment to defense. Facing their biggest challenge of the season Monday, the Warriors answered the critics with a one-sided 101-84 victory.
Noticeably, the Warriors returned to playing the up-tempo, unselfish brand of basketball that got them the best record in the league. That was more like the team that we enjoyed for much of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs.
The Warriors wasted no time to set the tone in the first half. Most remarkable, perhaps, was the fact that they did it without Stephen Curry as a key component of the offense in the first eight minutes. Curry took too much upon himself in the two losses, which had an adverse effect on him and his team. This time, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes led the way in the early going, and the results couldn’t have been much more positive.
It was nice to see Green come alive, in particular, as he had been largely ineffective because of foul trouble in the first three games of the series. Green makes contributions in so many areas, but at times, he tries to do too much. That often results in turnovers that can be costly in close games. This time he was under control for the most part, and his defensive work against Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol was no less impressive.
At that point, Curry took over. He scored seven points to close out the quarter with the Dubs on top, 28-20, although there still were too many turnovers for my taste.
I loved the fact that the Dubs got outstanding contributions from their two former All-Stars, Andre Iguodala and David Lee. Lee is returning to form after missing the start of the playoffs because of a back problem.
Their defense also was outstanding, holding the Grizzlies to 35 percent shooting overall and just 13 percent from 3-point range. For that, assistant coach Ron Adams deserves credit. The previous day, he and coach Steve Kerr decided to change the straight-up scheme that had been employed earlier in the series. Barnes fronted Zach Randolph in the low post, while Andrew Bogut protected the basket in the lane. In effect, they dared the Grizzlies to shoot from the perimeter and exploited one of their biggest weaknesses in the process — the lack of dependable 3-point shooters.
Curry came alive in the second quarter, when he dropped in another 14 points, and the Warriors increased their lead to 63-47 at the break.
Consider that they were 50-0 when leading by 15 or more at the half, the game was basically over. They did what they needed to do in the third quarter by jumping all over the Grizzlies early on and increasing the lead to as many as 26 points.
The Warriors have the distinction of never losing three games in a row this season. After securing home-court advantage once again, they now return home for a very important fifth game. If they continue to play with the focus, aggressiveness and unselfishness that was displayed on Monday night, expect them to return to Memphis in position to close out the series.
Rick Barry played eight season for the Warriors and was the captain of their only Bay Area NBA championship team. In 1987, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His commentary will appear exclusively in The San Francisco Examiner throughout the playoffs.Golden State WarriorsMemphis GrizzliesNBA Playoffs