The Grizzlies are trying to recover in every way possible.
They need to regather their basketball spirit after the Warriors shellacked them, 142-112, in Game 3 of their second-round series Saturday night. They need to improve their perimeter defense after Stephen Curry waltzed to the hoop over and over. They are rebuilding themselves physically, too. Head coach Taylor Jenkins said Sunday that there is a “really good chance” Ja Morant misses Game 4 after injuring his knee during Golden State’s blowout victory.
Memphis will need to find inspiration without him. It won’t be easy with the potent Warriors beginning to play like the most dangerous versions of themselves.
Let’s take a quick look at three pressing questions for each side heading into Game 4.
1. What was the vibe from each side during the off day?
Fred Katz: Draymond Green worded it well. It’s as if these teams are going “tit-for-tat.” Green had his flagrant 2 foul in Game 1. Dillon Brooks had the flagrant 2 in Game 2. Now the Grizzlies are accusing Jordan Poole of pernicious knee swiping.
Memphis looks like it will be missing its point guard come Game 4, and an apparent spitefulness has emerged.
There were inflammatory comments from the Grizzlies following Saturday’s loss. Jenkins doubled down on his words about Poole once again Sunday. He said Morant hurt his knee on the play in which Poole and Warriors wing Andrew Wiggins came to double-team the All-Star point guard at midcourt. He said general manager Zach Kleiman was in conversations with the league, conveying how the Grizzlies felt about the play. The NBA will not discipline Poole, who did not appear to have any obvious malicious intent.
“I don’t know about the word anger,” Grizzlies big man Xavier Tillman said. “We wanna win. Bottom line: we wanna win. We don’t feel any way towards them, whatsoever. We’re competing.”
Anthony Slater: The Warriors gave off a casual and confident vibe. They were annoyed at Memphis’ attempt to group Poole’s grab of Morant’s knee anywhere in the same ballpark as the Dillon Brooks flagrant foul. But that irritation had dissipated Sunday afternoon, having been giving assurances that the league (and general viewing world) agreed it was a non-issue worth no further action or reaction.
They held a light workout and Steve Kerr held a reflective press conference in which he pushed back on the idea that this series had been devolved into a more uncomfortable place than anticipated.
“I don’t think so,” Kerr said. “I think it’s a classic matchup of a young up-and-coming team and a veteran team trying to keep our ground. Memphis, I’ve talked about it throughout the series, what an amazing job they’ve done building the organization, what a great job Taylor has done with the team, the way they’ve drafted and developed. They’re a great team. They’re competitive. They want what we have. You look at the history of the league, that’s how it works — younger teams trying to take over. Any time you have those situations, those matchups, it gets physical, chippy, whatever you want to call it. So it doesn’t strike me as weird.”
2. What’s an adjustment you’re expecting?
Slater: Less zone defense from the Warriors.
It was an under-discussed aspect of Game 3, but the Warriors cranked up their usage of a pack-the-paint, slow-the-pace zone defense. It worked. Jenkins possessed postgame that it disrupted the Grizzlies’ first-half rhythm, producing severals like the one below, lacking flow as Memphis methodically searches for passing windows until a rushed 3 is necessary.
You’d think the Warriors have found a successful scheme and will continue to use it for longer stretches. Maybe. But the zone is tailored to keep Morant out of the lane. If Morant doesn’t play, there’s little purpose. Even if he does, the Warriors are of the belief that the Grizzlies spent the off day scheming it up a bit better and they may need to adjust away from the gimmick anyway.
“Every game is different,” Kerr said. “If something works, you stick with it longer. If it doesn’t, you go away from it. In a series, there are going to be adjustments. Then you have to adjust to the adjustments. They’ll be ready to attack the zone tomorrow and we may not play much of it at all.”
Katz: The Grizzlies won during the regular season, in part, because they dominated on the boards. They have to get back to that. One easy way to grab more rebounds would be to play Steven Adams in Game 4. He didn’t see any action in Game 3 until garbage time. But it’s not just that they’re missing the presence of their usual starting center.
They’ve gone small far more often than they did during the regular season. The tiny lineups didn’t work as well without Brooks, who was suspended for Game 3 and is the group’s toughest defender on the perimeter.
The Warriors’ smalls are scurrying to loose balls and grabbing long rebounds far too often. The Grizzlies can’t just scamper to beat the quick-footed competition to those ricochets. They have to box out better on the perimeter, too. They have routinely placed Morant, for example, on Wiggins, which has allowed Wiggins to crash the glass and get tip-outs or boards, himself.
Golden State is recovering 54.5 percent of available rebounds in this series. It’s grabbing a third of its own misses. If a team did that over the course of a full season, it’d be the second-best offensive rebounding team of the last five years.
The best? This year’s Grizzlies. They have to get back to their identity.
3. Player to watch in Game 4
Katz: Desmond Bane.
I could have said Tyus Jones’ name here, considering he will fill in for Morant if the All-Star point guard has to sit for Game 4, but Bane, assuming he’s a little more healthy than he’s been during the first three matches of this series, will take on a major scoring role if the Grizzlies are down their top player.
Memphis went 20-5 without Morant during the regular season. Jones, of course, played a major part in that. The Grizzlies were 3.8 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the floor this year, a notable difference for a guy who mostly plays with backups. But don’t discount Bane, who has been dealing with a lower-back injury, when it comes to that 20-5 record.
If the Grizzlies are missing Morant, that means lacking more than just the guy who organizes their offense. He’s their gaudiest scorer by far. He closed Game 2 with 15 consecutive points in the final 266 seconds. Jones obviously can’t replicate what Morant can do in that sense, but Bane can catch fire, as he showed time and time again during the first round against the Timberwolves.
His back has limited him but he can score in bunches, and Memphis would need an extended run from him to steal Game 4 on the road.
Slater: Jonathan Kuminga.
Otto Porter Jr. popped up on the Game 4 injury report. He’s probable with a hand contusion. Porter looked sore as he stiffly walked up to the podium for his off-day interview. He gave 24 pretty rugged minutes in Game 3 and it’s fair to wonder how well his body will respond to the quick turnaround.
If it isn’t a Porter night, the importance of Kuminga rises. He just became the youngest player ever to start in a playoff game. The results were spotty. He had a few panic turns. But he was active defensively and scored 18 points on 8 of 10 shooting.
“One of the reasons I started JK was we are missing Gary (Payton II)’s ability to finish,” Kerr said. “The way (the Grizzlies) play, they’re very aggressive, attacking everywhere. So you need some ability to finish quickly at the basket before their shot blockers get there. JK does that very well. So he’ll continue to be a factor.”
This is one of the interior quick-jump rim attacks Kerr is talking about. Kuminga catches and dunks on the recovering Tillman about as fast as humanly possible. He provides a dimension no other healthy player on the roster does and it could be vital against Memphis.
(Photo of Stephen Curry, Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke: D. Ross Cameron / USA Today)