If Game 1 between the Warriors and Grizzlies is an indicator of the quality of basketball we will see throughout the series, we are in for a treat, as Golden State, fueled by a 39-point third quarter spearheaded by Jordan Poole, swiped homecourt advantage with a 117-116 win.
The game was tight for much of the first quarter, but Memphis was able to draw first blood with a 9-0 spurt late to take an 8-point advantage into the second quarter. Leading the way was Ja Morant, who was orchestrating the Memphis offense beautifully, particularly when they could get out and run off of Warriors turnovers.
The Warriors would respond with their own run in the second quarter as Jordan Poole took center stage, finding open space on the perimeter to help Golden State reel Memphis back in.
The biggest moment of the first half came on a Draymond Green foul against Brandon Clarke, in which he hit the young Grizzlies center in the face going for a block and then dragged him down by his jersey. After review, it was determined that combination of fouls reached the criteria for a Flagrant 2, and Green was ejected from the game.
Almost immediately, the Grizzlies went on a run, with a pair of Morant baskets closing the half in style for the Grizzlies, pushing their lead to six at the break.
In the third quarter, Golden State came out with some added fire and a greater attention to detail on the offensive end, cutting down on turnovers and creating a number of open looks for Poole, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson, as their trio fo shooters started to get loose and helped turn a 6-point deficit into a 1-point lead going to the fourth.
The Warriors very well may have put the game away in the third quarter had it not been for the efforts of Jaren Jackson Jr., who buried three after three to keep the Grizzlies attached.
Early in the fourth it was the Warriors turn to go on another run, as Poole and Thompson hit some big shots to push the lead out to as many as 10 midway through the period.
As was the case in their first round series, the Grizzlies had a fourth quarter response ready, with Ja Morant taking center stage as they started to turn defense into offense after seeing their halfcourt sets get bogged down early in the quarter.
After tying things up, Memphis went back in front by two on a Morant layup where he got fouled (but would miss the free throw).
Every time the Grizzlies took a lead on a Morant bucket, the Warriors would end up getting an easy bucket on the other end, first off a second-chance dunk by Andrew Wiggins and then a blown coverage leading to a Gary Payton II dunk. Those offset Ja’s efforts and squared the game at 114-114, when Brandon Clarke gave Memphis a two-point edge on a lob play.
Golden State would find the answer in the form of Thompson, who drilled an open three (something Golden State otherwise struggled to do down the stretch) to push Golden State back in front.
On the next Memphis possession, Morant got Curry on a switch and tried to attack into a floater, but Steph was able to get his hand on the ball to force a turnover and set the Warriors up for a chance to go up three at the free throw line.
However, Thompson missed a pair of free throws on the other end and after a bizarre refereeing decision to call a jump ball after it appeared Dillon Brooks last touched it before it went out of bounds, Memphis had life at the end. The Grizzlies drew the final play up to get Morant going downhill to the bucket, but Thompson was able to wall him off from the rim and force a difficult scoop layup that didn’t come all that close.
It’s a tough loss to take if you’re the Grizzlies, having led by two inside the final minute after fighting back from a 10-point deficit. Their biggest issues were clearing the defensive glass, as the Warriors had 26 second chance points off of 16 offensive rebounds, and creating quality looks in the halfcourt for much of the third and fourth quarters, as their offense stalled once the Warriors started to take better control of the ball. Jaren Jackson Jr.’s effort (33 points), particularly in the third quarter, and Morant’s play down the stretch (34 points) was nearly enough to overcome that, as they became the first pair of Grizzlies to each score 30+ points in a playoff game in franchise history.
For Golden State, this game will feel like a bit of theft given they faced a six-point deficit at the half after Draymond got tossed, but they rode a hot shooting Poole, timely buckets from Thompson and Curry, and an impressive Green-less defensive effort to the win. Poole continues to impress, stepping up in games the Warriors desperately need him to, finishing with 31 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds off the bench. Curry had 24 points and Thompson had 15, but it was Poole’s effort that seemed to serve as the catalyst for their second half run in Green’s absence.
Now it’s on Memphis to at least split at home as they did in the last series, while the Warriors will hope a full game with Green will help improve their defense late in games, as Morant was able to get pretty much wherever he wanted.