It comes down to one game for the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies. The two will play at San Francisco’s Chase Center Friday evening with the winner heading to the NBA Playoffs to take on the Utah Jazz and the loser going home for the season.
In their do-or-die play-in game against the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday evening, the Grizzlies opened up a 19-point lead after the first quarter before struggling to maintain the huge advantage as the game progressed.
In the end, they came out on top by the score of 100-96 — relying on balanced scoring and some bad Spurs offense. Impressive forward Dillon Brooks paced Memphis with 24 points while Ja Morant and Jonas Valančiūnas each went for north of 20.
As for the Golden State Warriors, they nearly pulled off the impossible Wednesday evening. Stephen Curry and Co. went into Staples Centre and held a double-digit lead at the half against the Los Angeles Lakers before the game narrowed in the final stanza.
Curry went tit-for-tat with LeBron James in yet another great postseason matchup between the two legends. But it was a shot clock-beating three from King James with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter that gave the defending champion Lakers the lead and a matchup with the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Despite Curry going for 37 points on 6-of-9 shooting from distance and Andrew Wiggins playing a stellar all-around game, Golden State now heads into Friday night’s home game against the Grizzlies in need of a win in order to continue its season. Below, we look at four keys to the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies play-in game.
Golden State Warriors must free Stephen Curry from Dillon Brooks
It was just this past weekend that the Warriors and Grizzlies did battle in their season finale with the eighth seed in the play-in tournament on the line. Golden State opened up a 17-point lead heading into the fourth quarter before some major struggles on offense. The trend led to Memphis nabbing a 95-93 lead with 5:28 left.
Despite Curry having dominated on the offensive end, he was nowhere near as efficient with the long Brooks guarding him (5-of-13 shooting). Everything changed on a dime when Brooks fouled out of the game at the 6:12 mark with it tied at 91. Curry went on to score 11 points with Brooks on the bench, nailing clutch three after clutch three.
For Golden State, it must find a way to free Curry up from the 6-foot-7 Brooks. It’s obvious that the wing’s height impacts the NBA MVP candidate. Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton will not be anywhere near as effective on Curry Friday evening.
Memphis Grizzlies have to take advantage of their size
In three games against the Warriors, Jonas Valančiūnas averaged 19.3 points and 15.7 rebounds. The 6-foot-11 big man was also able to take advantage of his size in last weekend’s narrow loss, going for 29 points on 12-of-15 shooting.
Realistically, only Kevon Looney has the frame and bulk to go up against Memphis in the low-post. Despite his brilliant all-around defense, Draymond Green just doesn’t have the height. In fact, there’s not a single member of the Warriors’ rotation who stands taller than 6-foot-9. If Memphis is going to pull off the road upset, it will have to take advantage of this.
Can Andrew Wiggins continue to provide the Golden State Warriors with a two-way presence?
Over the course of his past three games, this enigmatic three-and-D wing is averaging 26.7 points and 6.7 rebounds on 62% shooting from the field. He’s also played elite-level defense against the likes of Devin Booker and LeBron James. For Wiggins, it’s just been a continuation of the great play we’ve seen from him in his first full season as a member of the Warriors.
It might not be as huge of an importance for Wiggins to dominate defensively against Memphis. While Dillon Brooks has proven to be a capable scoring wing, Wiggins should focus more on providing Curry with help on the other end. During the regular season, Golden State was 15-9 when Wiggins went for 20 or more. It posted a .500 record when he did not meet that mark.
Pace, pace and more pace
Memphis is going to want to slow it down in this one. While it ranked eighth in pace during the regular year, going up and down the court with Golden State will not be in the Grizzlies’ best interest. It will likely lead to wide-open three-point attempts from sharpshooters such as Stephen Curry, Mychal Mulder and Jordan Poole.
Instead, the Grizzlies want this to be a half-court game with Valančiūnas getting a ton of touches inside. It would slow down a Warriors squad that had the third fastest pace in the Association during the regular season. In short, a low-scoring game benefits Memphis.
Final predication: Warriors 111, Grizzlies 105