The Grizzlies lost a tough Game 1 to the Golden State Warriors, 101-86, and I honestly don't know how I feel about it.
On one hand, without Mike Conley, the Grizzlies were never supposed to win this game and no clear-eyed observer honestly expected them to. A Game 1 win on the road against a team that's only lost two home games all year, without Conley, would've been an upset of epic proportions, and instead, the Grizzlies looked about like I expected they would: the defense was okay but not great—Tony Allen and Nick Calathes did a good job on Golden State's killer backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but Zach Randolph had issues—and the offense struggled to get anything done at all.
On the other hand, some of the ways the Warriors killed the Grizzlies on Sunday afternoon had nothing at all to do with Mike Conley. Zach Randolph surrendered open 3-point shots to Draymond Green, who hit 50% of his 8 attempts from long range, and then Randolph also got punished for his poor pick and roll defense by Curry the same way he did in the 2013 Western Conference Finals by Tony Parker. Jeff Green and Vince Carter—the Grizzlies' two best bets to come in off the bench and generate some scoring—did nothing of the sort. Nick Calathes started at point guard and struggled on offense; Golden State dared him to make tricky/risky passes and he fell for it every time. At the same time, Beno Udrih didn't have a great shooting day and got torched on defense, struggling to stay in front of any and every Warriors player he ended up guarding.
What ended up being a 15-point loss felt like it could've been a lot worse, and yet the Grizzlies were never really completely out of the game until the last three or four minutes, making little runs as best they could.
Ultimately all Sunday's Game 1 did was put the Grizzlies in an 0-1 hole in the series and prove that unless Conley can return to action sooner rather than later—I would assume he's targeting a return in Game 3 on Saturday to help the Griz try to win at home—this series is going to be shorter than any Griz fan would like to admit.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. Among the signs of struggle are things the Griz can build on as the series progresses:
➭ Calathes and Allen really did do a good job defending Curry and Thompson and preventing them from getting hot the way they so often do. Holding them to a combined 40 points without Mike Conley contributing on the defensive end is a real achievement for this Griz team, as much as that feels like the short, pedestrian trophy elementary school kids get for "participating" in soccer. If that's a trend that can continue—and it should; we know Tony Allen is Tony Allen and Calathes proved himself to be an excellent defender this season—that's one part of the Grizzlies' game plan that is effective.
➭ The "no point guard" lineup with Courtney Lee as the primary ball handler isn't great, but it (mostly) works, and it helps the Grizzlies counteract some of the mismatches created by Conley's absence in a way that they really can't with Udrih's poor defense or Calathes' poor shooting. The problem with playing Calathes and Allen at the same time is the same problem the Griz used to have when Allen and Tayshaun Prince played together: by the time you make it to the second round of the playoffs, going 3-on-5 on offense doesn't work. Lee as the point guard (with Allen as the 2 for defense or Vince Carter and Jeff Green as the 2 and 3 for "offense," assuming they're actually scoring) allows the Griz to at least try to score some points while not sacrificing too much defense. I don't think it's the answer to all of the Grizzlies' problems—"healthy Mike Conley and the platonic ideal of Vince Carter and Jeff Green" isn't walking through that door—but it is better than nothing.
➭ Jordan Adams played 35 seconds and in that time managed to have a nice catch-and-shoot 3-pointer. Adams also was part of that crazy Grizzlies bench unit that hung a 41-point quarter on the Warriors' scrubs back in April. Maybe play him three or five minutes in Game 2 and see if he gets killed. If he doesn't, maybe let him play 8 (gasp) whole minutes. Just see if he can handle it. Anyone who can provide offense and play credible defense is going to be worth putting on the floor in this series.
➭ Kosta Koufos only played 5 minutes. The Grizzlies and Warriors scored the same number of points in the paint (44). If the Griz can't outscore the Warriors in the paint, they aren't going to win a single game in this series. Those three facts seem to be related to each other. Use Koufos more, and use Jeff Green as a big less.
➭ After the game, Marc Gasol said he didn't believe that the game was physical enough, and Draymond Green said he didn't think the game was as physical as he had expected it to be. That indicates to me that there's another level of "mud" into which the Grizzlies could drag the series, and that it would be in their best interests to do so starting in Game 2. Force the issue in the paint. Get Green and Andrew Bogut into foul trouble. Slow it down even more. It won't be pretty, and it may not even work, but it's definitely a tactic on the table, and it's how the Grizzlies have beaten the Warriors so many times over the past three seasons. Without Conley, reverting to uglyball isn't the worst idea I've heard.
Tweet(s) of the
First things first:
Vince Carter out here rubbing Old Spice aftershave on Warriors players when he sets screens— ☕netw3rk (@netw3rk) May 3, 2015
Mike Conley did a sideline interview with Doris Burke and his eye, while clearly better than it was on Wednesday when he made an appearance at Grizzlies/Blazers Game 5, still looks rough:
Can you play basketball with a red eyeball? Asking for a friend.— Chris Herrington (@HerringtonNBA) May 3, 2015
Game 2 is Tuesday night at 9:30 Memphis time. The Grizzlies clearly have their work cut out for them; with any luck, Game 2 will see them make the adjustments they can and make one more attempt to steal a game from the Warriors on their home floor. It's going to take luck—luck, along with nearly flawless execution and an increase in physicality—at this point, barring a miraculous return from Conley before the series shifts back to Memphis.