OAKLAND — It was a matter of adjusting, as it always is in the playoffs. A matter of cooling off the hot man, and for while there, the opening 3½ minutes of a game that was going in the wrong direction for the Warriors on Wednesday, that hot man was Zach Randolph of Memphis.
He’s 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, with mobility and a jump shot. Rebound, basket, rebound, rebound, basket, rebound, 25-footer. Unstoppable? Unimaginable. Eight and a half minutes into the game the Dubs almost had to win, they were down 11-4. And Randolph had nine of those points. And five rebounds.
A frantic crowd kept chanting “De-fense! De-fense!” Andrew Bogut, the Warriors’ biggest fan, was trying and failing to play defense. So briefly, after coach Steve Kerr sent word, was Harrison Barnes. So Bogut went back on Randolph, and the Warriors were back on track.
Randolph got only two shots the second quarter, made just one, and the Grizzlies were grizzled. Or frazzled. Or whatever explanation serves when they had a mere 16 points in the second and third periods. The game still had a long way to go on the clock. In the mind, it was over. The Warriors had figured it out.
The final score, 98-78, was almost an afterthought. The NBA semifinals, however, are very much in everyone’s thoughts. One win, and the Warriors are there — because when they needed to be, they were there to stop Randolph, who finished with only 13 points but did have a game-high 10 boards.
“We were giving Randolph a little too much space,” Kerr said of the early problem. “We adjusted. Most of the last three quarters of the game we were able to take away his space.”
Kerr said his team appeared to be nervous the first 10 minutes or so. There was no question the sellout crowd of 19,596 was very nervous. The last home game before this one, the Grizzlies whipped the favored Warriors, and then the teams went to Tennessee, and there was a repeat. Yikes.
Kerr said on the days off he talked to his colleagues, former coaches, former players, maybe even current coaches. It’s the things are done in the NBA. Whether the advice came in handy Wednesday not be disclosed for a while, if ever, but as they say, it didn’t hurt. “I thought we were a little tight,” said Kerr, a pro head coach for the first time this season. “We settled down. That was a key stretch in the first quarter. We were down, 10, 12.”
Actually 13 at 23-10 with three minutes left in the quarter.
“I thought it was a miracle having the lead after the first quarter the way the game went.”
But it went wonderfully the rest of the way. The Grizzlies went from shooting 55 percent after 12 minutes to 40 percent after 24.
“I thought our intensity picked up after the first quarter,” Kerr. “I thought our defense was good enough after the first couple of games, but I was wrong. This is what it’s going to take.”Art Spander