Since the Grizzlies take on the Warriors again tonight for a pivotal Game 4 with a chance to take the series back to California with a 3–1 lead over Golden State, I thought it would be a good idea to jot down some quick thoughts in preparation for tonight’s 8:30 (Memphis time) start.
1. Expect Steph Curry to play like the MVP tonight.
Whether he does or not is beside the point: Curry has been shooting well below his averages so far in this series, and the Grizzlies have to prepare for tonight’s game like he’s not going to do that anymore. This is one way in which this series is similar to last year’s first-round battle with the Thunder: the Warriors have two players who are capable of combining for 80 points at the drop of a hat. They haven’t done that yet, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less capable of it.
Curry had 23 points 21 shots in Game 3, shooting 38% from the floor and 20% from three. Even though the Grizzlies’ defense had more than a little to do with those poor percentages, the Grizzlies have to pretend that they didn’t—that Curry and his backcourt mate Klay Thompson were just “off” and not bothered by some guy running around yelling “first team all defense”. (Certainly a segment of the national media seems to be doing just that.) Defend them just as vigilantly as they did in games 1–3 and don’t be surprised if they get hot. They’re due for it. Have a plan B.
2. The Griz don’t want to have to win one at Oracle.
The Grizzlies proved in Game 2 that they can win in Golden State’s building, but that doesn’t mean they want to put themselves in a situation where that’s the only way they can advance. The percentages are not in their favor for doing such a thing. (Of course, the percentages are not in their favor for much of anything they’ve done so far in this series, but still—it’s a hard place to win.) If they can hold home court tonight and win Game 4, the pressure is off in Game 5—not the pressure to win, but the pressure to have to.
Of course, I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not for this Griz team, who seem to play better when they don’t have an option, but still: the Grizzlies stole home court advantage in the series by winning Game 2 out West. They’d do well not to give it back to the Warriors tonight.
3. Marc Gasol still hasn’t had a complete dominant game on offense.
Game 3 was the best one out of Gasol yet, who had 21 points and 15 rebounds and carried the team through large stretches, but almost all of that production happened in the first half. In the second half, Gasol shot 1–8 from the floor and had 5 rebounds—and also somehow managed to get called for five fouls in the fourth quarter as the refs made a pretty blatant attempt to even out the number of free throw attempts between the two teams.
If Gasol can take his first half performance and duplicate it over the course of a whole game tonight, the Grizzlies will be unstoppable. When Gasol gets going, it forces the Warriors to guard him with Andrew Bogut (who also hasn’t been as much of a factor in this series as I’d expected), and puts the smaller Draymond Green on Zach Randolph, freeing him up to play bully ball on the blocks. If Randolph heats up, Bogut gets assigned to Randolph, putting Green on Gasol, who can then punish Green in different ways, unleashing his arsenal of post moves and set shots (and the Dirk-like one-legged fadeaway he’s been taking all year, which I still kind of hate, but am starting to accept).
The Grizzlies know by now where their best matchups are and who will need to carry them. They just need to execute on those strategies.
4. Courtney Lee has been spectacular.
Lee hasn’t always put up the best stat lines in this series, box-score-wise, but his shots all feel like they’ve come at exactly the right time. Lee’s shooting has been key to keeping some sort of spacing available for the Grizzlies’ offense, and his postseason play this year is so much better than last year’s disappearing act it’s hard to believe they’re the same player.
Other Griz players who were supposed to provide that sort of offensive lift—Jeff Green and Vince Carter, mainly—haven’t really done so yet, but Lee has been good, hitting shots, defending well, making plays. The Grizzlies’ chances against the Warriors depend on Lee (and if not Lee, then somebody else) being able to hit outside jumpers as an escape valve for the interiors stuff. Giving them someone other than Mike Conley to bail out to, adding another wrinkle to the Grizzlies’ very scripted, violence-heavy offensive system.
Lee needs to have a big night for the Grizzlies to have a big night, and so far, he hasn’t let them down.