10:30 PM EST, NBA TV – Line: Golden State -4.5
With a week remaining in the Regular Season, the top two seeds in the Western Conference clash at ORACLE Arena as the Golden State Warriors host the Memphis Grizzlies. Sitting atop the crowded West, the Warriors (65-15, 1st in Pacific) have set a franchise record for victories in a campaign, clinching the No. One Seed in the process. As a result, Head Coach Steve Kerr has monitored his charges playing time, particularly that of his starting five, leading to splitting their last four outings; after sustaining consecutive losses for just the third time this season, a 107-92 loss at San Antonio followed by a 103-100 to New Orleans, they managed to right the ship with back-to-back wins over Portland (116-105) and Minnesota (110-101). Saturday Night’s victory over the Timberwolves was supposed to be a relatively easy one, but the young visitors put together a game performance after getting embarrassed in Los Angeles the night prior. The hosts fell behind 31-28 after the first stanza, before getting into synch, and outscoring their opponent 58-38 over the ensuing two quarters of play. Stephen Curry exploded for thirty-four points on 11-of-21 shooting from the field (52.4%), including 5-of-11 from three (45.5%), while also totaling four rebounds, seven assists, and four steals. The sharpshooting Klay Thompson added another twenty-three points, though he needed twenty-three shots to do so. It was a rather disappointing effort on the defensive end of the court for a team that has been stout all year long, allowing Minnesota to shoot a sizzling 11-of-24 from beyond the arc (45.8%), and sending them to charity stripe for a parade of free-throws (20-of-26). Rookie swingman Zach LaVine in particular had a field day, touching up Golden State for a game-high thirty-seven points on 13-of-21 shooting (61.9%), including 6-of-10 from downtown (60.0%), to go with nine rebounds and four assists. The difference in the game though came on the glass, where Kerr’s outfit established quite an advantage, outrebounding the Timberwolves 50-40, piling up thirteen offensive rebounds, with Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green accounting for eight of that total.
Rebounding will be especially important in tonight’s contest against the Grizzlies, who possess one of the biggest frontcourts that the league has to offer, with the likes of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph cleaning up everything in the painted area. In their two previous meetings this season, they managed to outrebound Memphis by 2.0 boards per game, all the while securing a sizeable difference on the offensive glass, pulling down 14.5 rebounds to 9.0. When they met back on March 27th, the Warriors stormed into the Music City and proceeded to dismantle the hosts to the tune of 107-84. A relatively close game at Halftime (54-49), the visitors exploded in the Third Quarter for thirty-one points to their opponent’s sixteen, effectively putting the game out of reach. On that night they amassed forty-three rebounds to Memphis’ forty, compiling fourteen offensive rebounds, helping to lead to fourteen more free-throw attempts. Then again, forcing nineteen turnovers will also pad that number as well. With that said, it was the Curry and Thompson show, as the “Splash Brothers” went off against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA; Curry scored a game-best thirty-eight points on 12-of-22 shooting from the field (54.5%), while Thompson poured in another twenty-eight points on 10-of-17 shooting (58.8%). Arguably the most feared perimeter tandem in the league today, the pair were a torrid 14-of-21 from beyond the arc (66.7%), outscoring the Grizzlies by twenty-four points alone in that regard. And at the end of the day, that can be described as the difference between these two teams; while Memphis would prefer to pummel their opposition into submission in the paint, Golden State has proven time and again to be absolutely merciless from three-point land. On the season, no team has shot a higher percentage from three than Kerr’s, who have managed to net a ridiculous 39.6% of their attempts, all the while hoisting 27.1 attempts a night (4th Overall). And because of that, their Effective Field Goal Percentage, which is weighted for the additional impact of the three-pointer, also leads the NBA at a stellar 53.8%. Curry and Thompson account for the majority of their three-point field goals, accounting for 507 of the team’s 857, equating to 59.2% of the overall total. Then again, the Splash Brothers are far from the only Warriors that can make the opposition pay from distance; the aforementioned Barnes has shot 40.1% this season, and Green (33.8%) is third on the team with 110 three-point field goals. A former Second Round Pick, Green has flourished as a Jack of All Trades in Kerr’s Starting Five, proving to be an absolute asset on both ends of the court; the versatile Forward has averaged 11.8 points on 44.3% shooting from the filed, along with a team-high 8.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.3 blocks, while his Wins Shares/48 minutes checks in at .166, second only to Curry.
Meanwhile, as the Warriors enjoy the luxury of having clinched the Top Seed in the Western Conference, and thus afford to rest some of their stars if need be, the Grizzlies (54-26, 1st in Southwest Division) are in a very different situation, dead-locked in a three-way tie with the surging San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers for Second out West. Though they currently own the tiebreaker over the Spurs for first place in the Southwest Division, a failure to keep pace could cause them to fall down the postseason pecking order. This is something that Memphis knows all too well, for they snuck into the Playoffs last season and nearly upset the Oklahoma City Thunder in a seven-game epic last May. The Second Seed obviously means home court through at least the Conference Semifinals, and arguably a more advantageous matchup in the opening round. Losers of five of their last nine outings, Dave Joerger’s charges have been beset by injuries of late, particularly in the Backcourt where starters Mike Conley Jr. and Tony Allen have missed a number of games. Conley, one of the more underrated Point Guards in the league has missed the last two contests with a sprained right foot, and is listed as questionable heading into tonight’s tilt. As for Allen, the defensive stopper has been sidelined for over a week with a strained hamstring, and could very likely need another week to get back to full strength. This could indeed be a situation where Joerger and Co. make the decision that it’s better for the team to enter the postseason 100% healthy, rather than force such significant players to return in an attempt to retain their high standing. However, their absence hasn’t quite spelled disaster; over the last two outings, the Grizzlies have managed to dish out forty-six assists over that span without the services of Conley, who leads the team at 5.4 helpers per game, while locking down on the defensive end, permitting the Jazz and Clippers to shoot 43.7% and 39.8% respectively in their last back-to-back road set of the season. However, given how bad Golden State roughed them up in their previous meeting, not having Conley and Allen present on the floor for a third consecutive road game doesn’t make for the most promising proposition.
With that said, The Grizzlies have been able to weather this storm due to the team’s excellent depth. Five different players have averaged in double-figures in scoring, with six dishing out over 2.0 assists per game. Joerger’s charges may continue at one of the slowest paces in the league, but they have become very efficient, thanks in large part to their unselfishness in sharing the ball in the halfcourt. It all starts with Gasol, who has become adept at setting up at the High-Post or at the Elbow where he uses his size to survey the court and pick apart opposing defenses. Pairing with Randolph, the Grizzlies have a very effective High/Low combination of Bigs, which has become rare in today’s game; the two combine for 33.6 points per game, along with 18.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.9 steals, and 1.8 blocks a night. Together, they’re the primary reason why Memphis is so efficient inside the three-point arc; the team ranks first in the league in two-point field goals (32.6), while attempting 67.1 of them per contest (2nd Overall). In their first meeting with the Warriors this season, a 105-98 Grizzlies’ victory, the big guys proved too much for the their opponent to handle, combining for forty-one points, and seventeen rebounds, six of which were of the offensive variety. But let us not forget about Jeff Green, who’s acquisition back in December has brought a versatile offensive presence on the wings that has been sorely lacking from this team in recent years. After four seasons in Boston, Green came to Memphis and slotted in immediately at Small Forward where he has since averaged 13.3 points on 42.8% shooting from the field, including 36.8% shooting from three, along with 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists. Though those numbers won’t blow anyone away, it’s the matchups that he creates that has made him such a integral addition to the starting five. Adding another player capable of stretching defenses creates more space for Gasol and Randolph to operate in the paint, and also gives opponents another threat to prepare for on the perimeter. He also gives Joerger that luxury of tinkering with his lineups, allowing him to go smaller by moving Green to the Four and putting an other Guard on the court so they can play faster. Green scored a team-high sixteen points on 7-of-12 shooting (58.3%), including eight rebounds, an assist and a steal in just over thirty-two minutes off the bench in the aforementioned loss on March 27th.