Programming note: Watch "Warriors Playoff Central" Monday at 5:30 p.m. and immediately following Game 4 on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, and streaming live right here.
MEMPHIS, TN -- The Warriors were shielded from the prying eyes of a skeptical nation Sunday, with only head coach Steve Kerr and momentarily struggling Draymond Green available to explain what we have foolishly thought was inexplicable.
Namely, how a team that likes to play up-tempo and trusts its ability to shoot the jumper in all situations can be frustrated by a team that has made its bones on frustrating others.
And yes, the word “trust” did come up, from Draymond Green, who like his teammates spent a lively early afternoon re-watching Saturday night’s 99-89 gutting by the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 3 of this Western Conference Semifinal series.
“We all want to make the play that gets us back and gets the lead back in a hurry,” he said Sunday, “instead of just trusting each other and running our stuff. It’s all good intentions, but everyone almost feels like they have to do it on their own.”
In other words, the Warriors have been in an ungainly hurry to do what they did routinely during the regular season – work with a lead. It is something they may have taken for granted most of this season, or they may have found that Memphis is better at holding leads than most teams.
“I think they’ve had success early in games offensively,” Green said, “and less success late.”
So the Grizzlies establish game tone, and are good at maintaining it. They don’t have to win by 27 if they just make sure the opponent never gets within two possessions. And that, for all the other convolutions of this series, explains why the Warriors are down 2-1.
Green was helpful in breaking Stephen Curry from his hotel tomb after Game 3, forcing the point guard/franchise face/etc. to go out for a late meal and unwinding to the Blues City Café, a local institution. Of course, he wasn’t unnoticed but he spent less time in his own head than he would have otherwise, in case the Grizzlies are becoming a more psychological than physical barrier.
But in making Sunday a film and self-criticism day, the Warriors were acknowledging that what has come to ail them in this series is as much cranial as physical, perhaps more so for Curry than anyone else.
He has been made in two games to defend his selection as the league’s most valuable player, and he has picked those two games to have his worst two successive shooting games of the year. He is 4-for-21 from three in those games, and 8-for-29 against the Grizzlies overall in the series. In six games against Memphis this year, he is shooting a relatively dismal 20-for-57 (35.1 percent, worst than against other winning teams but Chicago) from beyond the arc, and this current five-game stretch (21 of 55,) is the second-worst of his season, behind the five games in mid-March where he was 25 for 72.
It’s what we call cherry-picking numbers for fun and profit, but who’s to say Curry’s three games against the Grizzlies are worse than, say, Green’s? His three-game line (9-for-30, 5-for-17, 23 rebounds, only four offensive, 13 fouls and 11 turnovers) has been conspicuous by its separation from the regular season, and whether he is trying to guard Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph, his relative size deficiency, which he was usually able to hide, has become a conspicuous liability.
The brazen fact is that any surprise America might have over the Warriors’ difficulties in this series are, well, America’s responsibility. The Warriors’ attractiveness as an entertainment vehicle became so intoxicating that we came to regard them as invulnerable, forgetting that three months ago we were all viewing San Antonio and Memphis as the teams they wished to avoid in the postseason. The stockpiling of Golden State wins and other teams’ injuries allowed us to dismiss what we had decided we knew about Memphis, and now we’re being reminded of it.
And the notion that this is somehow age and guile vs. youth and impetuousness is misguided as well. The Grizzles were built as the perfect counterpoint to the new wave of basketball, and though they are not the last pure vestiges of the old school (most good teams are hybrids of one sort or other), they have mastered what kids today would call “Granddad’s game” – get the ball on the block, use post moves, pump fakes, easily repeatable fundamental footwork and all the things they used to teach big men before they all decided to become guards.
[RELATED: Speights to miss time with right calf strain]
They are just very good at what they do, and that, more than purity of style, is what wins playoff games. There was no more elemental old-schoolish football than that played by Vince Lombardi, and they named a trophy after him.
And barring the renaming of the Lawrence O’Brien Trophy after Dave Joerger or, in a cheap nod to the modern metrics crowd, John Hollinger, being very good very often at what you do can render the method you choose relatively unimportant, at least in a 28-game season.
And all that is what the Warriors must figure out over the next 20-some-odd hours. How to do what they do better than how well the Grizzlies do what they do. And yes, it’s on the individuals, the Currys, the Greens, et. al., to make that happen, but if it does not, this will not be a failure of individuals. When you win 67 games and don’t get out of the second round (and only one team has managed that ever), everybody shares the shame. It isn’t cut like a pie for each to get his slice. They all go down as one.
And if that doesn’t muck with your head a bit, your head isn’t of much use to you.