I didn’t like much of what I saw of the Warriors in their 99-89 loss against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night. They trail in the series, 2-1, but my level of confidence remains high at this point. That’s because the game was more crucial for the Grizzlies, who had to win in order to maintain the home-court advantage in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals.
Unfortunately, the Warriors made it way too easy for the home team. Who were those guys, anyway? After a good start, they played like a team I had not seen all season. Gone was the efficient offense which utilized four, five and six passes to get a slew of wide-open shots and easy buckets. For some unknown reason, Warriors resorted to one-on-one play. At their best, the Warriors are the better team. But other than the series opener, the experienced Grizzlies haven’t allowed them to play their game.
Gone, too, was the tough team defense that was one of the best in the NBA in the regular season. Combine that with nine turnovers that led to easy points, 2-of-12 shooting from 3-point range and the inability to stop the Grizzlies’ interior game, which totaled 36 points in the paint, and the Dubs were lucky to trail by only 16 at the break.
My initial fear at the start of the series was how the Warriors would handle the inside presence of All-Stars Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. That concern became a reality as the duo combined for 43 points and 23 rebounds. In the second half, the Warriors began to double-team more with some positive results. We may see more of that in Game 4 if the situation calls for it.
One element I did not count on when I made my prediction before the series — Warriors in five games — was the return to action of Mike Conley, the Grizzlies’ valuable point guard. Conley’s 22-point performance in Game 2 and his 11 points and five assists in Game 3 had a lot to do with his team’s lead in the series.
Despite the disappointing loss, there’s reason for hope. The Warriors played well for only about 12 minutes. Even so, they still were in position to make a run late in the game.
Trailing by as many as 19 in the fourth quarter, the Dubs finally began to play like the team that had a 67-15 record in the regular season. During a three minute stretch, from the 8:33 mark until 6:15 remaining, neither team was able to score and the Warriors missed an opportunity to close the deficit. If not for two lucky shots by Randolph and some missed free throws and turnovers by the Warriors, the lead could easily have been cut to two points.
Still, with 3:15 to go, the deficit stood at only four. But a 3-pointer by Courtney Lee and a desperation shot as the shot clock ran out by Gasol, coupled with more Warriors misses and a turnover, extinguished the valiant comeback attempt.
Now the tables have turned. Game 4 becomes crucial for the Warriors, who don’t want to be one loss away from elimination.
Rick Barry played eight seasons for the Warriors and was the only 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.