Why Warriors should have slight edge over young Grizzlies


SAN FRANCISCO – The Memphis Grizzlies are young, talented, eager and fearless. Posting a record unsurpassed in the 27-year history of the franchise, they were superior to the Warriors in most every way during the regular season.

Memphis even won three of the four regular-season meetings with Golden State.

The NBA playoffs are an altogether different game, which is why the Western Conference semifinals between the two teams is so compelling.

Can the mature team so familiar with success in May and June outwit the untested team with a deeper cabinet of spectacular athletes?

Does a Warriors team trying to make another run to the top have the goods to subdue a Grizzlies team determined to prove that experience is overrated?

The answer to both questions is “yes,” but the conditions are many. One, however, stands above the rest: A orderly offense.

“We’ve got to be really sharp,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Saturday, before the team boarded its flight to Memphis. “We can’t let them get out running like crazy off turnovers or bad shots. We’ve got to connect the game at both ends and be really sharp.”

That speaks to the respect the Warriors have for the Grizzlies’ ability to force turnovers. Memphis not only led the league in rebounding and blocks but also, for the second consecutive season, in steals per game.

These factors explain how Memphis led the league in fast-break points. With young comes chaos, and this bunch has done a nice job of controlling it – in the regular season.

“They’ve built a foundation over the last few years through player development, through really smart drafting and investment,” Kerr said. “They’re really well coached. You throw all of that together, it means we’ve got to execute to beat them.”

As imposing as the Grizzlies are, their first-round series against the Timberwolves was a study of two adolescent squads awkwardly rummaging through the hazards inherent to the NBA postseason. Memphis didn’t so much win that series in six games as the more clueless Minnesota team kept finding ways to lose it.

If the Timberwolves were mentally equipped to command the big stage, they likely would have won the series.

The core of the Warriors – the three-ring trio of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson – not only is ready for the big stage but quite comfortable being on it.

“We’ve been around the block,” Curry said. “We’re trying to get back to the mountaintop, and (we) understand the opportunity in front of us. They’re just hitting their stride in terms of their identity as a team. Individual guys have made some amazing strides early in their careers.”

The Grizzlies this season made a giant leap – from four games over .500 in 2020-21 to 30 games over in 2021-22 – with core players who have been in the NBA for four or fewer seasons. All-Star point guard Ja Morant is a 22, as is forward/center Jaren Jackson Jr. Star shooter Desmond Bane is 23, power forward Brandon Clarke 25, firebrand guard Dillon Brooks 26.

The Grizzlies averaged 16 turnovers per game against the Timberwolves, giving away an average of 18.3 points per game. Minnesota averaged 17.7 turnovers, gifting Memphis an average of 21.5 points per game. Neither team was “sharp” by playoff standards.

Which is to say the Grizzlies will make mistakes Golden State has the savvy to exploit in ways the Timberwolves did not – as long as Curry & Co. aren’t undermined by their own gaffes.

“Just try to be as thoughtful about how we’re trying to create offense and create good shots on every possession,” Curry said. “You go in with a certain mindset and approach to that, and then you have to execute it.

“We do play a certain style. There are going to be some turnovers. We’re not going to play perfect games. You have to control the type of turnovers you have. You cannot have the ones that are unforced, where you’re just giving them points in transition.”

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Golden State can be plenty charitable at times; witness giving Memphis 22 points off 21 turnovers in its overtime loss in the 2021 play-in game that ended the Warriors’ season. What was stunning about that game is that the veterans, Curry and Green, combined to commit 13 of the 21 turnovers.

If the Warriors are that sloppy in Game 1 on Sunday or any subsequent game, they can be on the golf course by mid-May.

But if the Warriors are neat on offense and tight on defense, operating with the care and composure of the vets they are, the series should belong to them.

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