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NBA Playoffs: Three key Grizzlies-Warriors questions as upstart Memphis takes on seasoned Golden State

The Memphis Grizzlies couldn’t have asked for a better first-round opponent than the Minnesota Timberwolves. Despite the matchup issues that Minnesota created, the Grizzlies drew one of the only teams in the playoffs with less playoff experience than them. They desperately tried to give that series away. They trailed by at least 13 points in five of the six games. They committed unbelievable fouls and sloppy defense and committed some of the worst turnovers you’ll see in the postseason and none of it mattered because the Timberwolves were even more complicated. Minnesota was something of a test for Memphis, an opponent forgiving enough to survive as they adjusted to playoff basketball.

Well, let’s hope they’ve learned their lesson, because the Western Conference bracket is about to throw them into the deep end with Golden State. The Warriors don’t give up 13-point leads. Turn them into 30 point leads. Play carelessly against them and you’ll be dead in a room. Stephen Curry has played in more playoff games (117) than his entire regular-season starting lineup (106). If you value playoff experience, Golden State should enter this series as heavy favorites.

But it’s the No. 2-seeded Grizzlies who will have home-field advantage in this series. The Grizzlies also took three of four regular-season matchups, and when these two teams played in San Francisco a year ago for the right to advance to the playoffs, it was Memphis that advanced. The Warriors may have the wisdom that comes with experience, but the Grizzlies have the courage that comes with youth. They don’t care about Curry’s three championships. They’re four wins away from the Western Conference Finals, and they think they’re perfectly capable of getting there.

Here’s everything you need to know as the Warriors and Grizzlies prepare for battle, including the schedule and three key questions.

Memphis Grizzlies (2) vs. Golden State Warriors (3)

  • Game 1 (in the MEM): Sunday April 30 | 3:30 p.m. ET | TELEVISION: ABC
  • Game 2 (in the MEM): Tuesday May 3 | 9:30 p.m. ET | TELEVISION: TNT
  • Game 3 (at GSW): Saturday May 7 | 8:30 p.m. ET | TELEVISION: Determined
  • Game 4 (at GSW): Monday May 9 | 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time | TELEVISION: Determined
  • Game 5* (in the MEM): Wednesday May 11 | To be determined | TELEVISION: TNT
  • Game 6* (at GSW): Friday May 13 | To be determined | TELEVISION: Determined
  • Game 7* (in the MEM): Monday May 16 | To be determined | TELEVISION: TNT

1. Who controls the glass?

The Grizzlies are exactly the kind of team that should have a hard time scoring in a playoff scenario. They ranked 22nd in half-court points per play in the regular season and improved only slightly in the playoffs. Generally speaking, the playoffs are dominated by the half-court offense. Even given Golden State’s notorious rotation problems, Memphis likely won’t rack up as many easy transition points as it usually does.

His other source of easy offense? That is a more difficult bitter to analyze. The Grizzlies were the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA during the regular season and it wasn’t close. They grabbed 33.8 percent of available offensive rebounds, a full percentage point higher than any other team, but 4.6 of those offensive rebounds per game came from Steven Adams, an outdated center from a playoff perspective. Minnesota took him off the court in a single game. He’s just too slow to play pick-and-roll defense in the playoffs (most big men are when Curry’s involved) and not contributing much beyond throwbacks on offense, the Grizzlies were downsized in name. of versatility.

However, when the series ended, they had still managed to grab 36 more offensive rebounds than the Timberwolves. To be fair, offensive rebounding against Minnesota isn’t difficult. The Timberwolves ranked 28th in defensive rebounding rate in the regular season. The Warriors ranked sixth. Three of their wins over the Timberwolves were by single digits and in the series as a whole they were plus-30 in second-chance points. Can the Grizzlies even come close to that total even against a scaled-down version of the Warriors? And if they can’t, where are they making up the difference?

Adams may be too slow to defend Golden State’s perimeter scorers, but Jaren Jackson Jr. certainly isn’t. He is one of the most changeable big men in the NBA, ideal for mixing coverage on the ever-deadly Curry-Draymond Green pick-and-roll. Jackson is quick enough to protect and recover, long enough to keep Curry from being a passer if he shoots, light enough to switch Curry and defend directly, and traditional enough to play the cat-and-mouse game of the game. coverage drop. . Curry and Green can rip anyone to shreds. Outside of proven products like Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo and Giannis Antetokounmpo, you might not find a big man in the NBA better equipped to contain them than Jackson.

However, Jackson barely made it through half of the first round on the floor. During the first five games against Minnesota, Jackson committed more than eight fouls per 36 minutes. Part of that is the cost of doing business against Karl-Anthony Towns. Some of it was just carelessness. Jackson committed several totally avoidable offensive fouls that deprived Memphis of its defensive impact.

The Warriors are going to attack Jackson early for precisely this purpose. They’d love to try their luck against Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman without Jackson getting in their way. But Golden State ranked 25th in free throw attempts per 100 possessions in the regular season. This is a ball movement and jump shot team. They’re not designed to take someone like Jackson off the floor. Jackson fouled out five times in Game 6 against Minnesota, but needed more than 34 minutes to get there. That’s the performance Memphis needs in this series. If Jackson averages the 22.6 minutes he averaged in Games 1-5? Win the Golden State. If Jackson can’t finish games because he’s fouled out? Win the Golden State. If he’s on the floor for 34 minutes, the Grizzlies have a chance.

3. How good are the Warriors, really?

Golden State’s new death lineup of Curry, Green, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins was the talk of the first round. Guess how many minutes he has played together in his entire existence. Probably a couple hundred, right? Do not? Surely at least 50, then? No. Just 39. The most dangerous lineup in the NBA haven’t even played a full game together. Their first live action as a quintet came in the playoffs.

It may not have seemed like it when the Warriors swept a Denver team that made the playoffs only by the grace of Nikola Jokic, but we really haven’t seen much of the Warriors this season. Thompson missed the start of the regular season. Green missed the middle. Curry missed the finish. The three shared just 11 total regular season minutes. His playoff record is obviously beyond reproach, but it’s hard to take much away from a series against a team that’s missing two of its three best players, especially when Curry didn’t start the first four games of that series.

Well, as inexperienced as they may be, the Grizzlies represent a true playoff-caliber opponent. They have home field advantage and the sixth defense in the NBA. If the Golden State flambéed Memphis like it did Denver? Move over Boston and Phoenix, because we have our new favorite for the championship. There’s a compelling case that Golden State has already seized that title. They have significantly more playoff experience than either. They are elite on both sides of the ball and deeper than any of the eight teams left in the playoff field. It only remains for the Warriors to show their work. With Phoenix closing in on the next round, this is Golden State’s chance to show the basketball world that it truly is back on top.