OAKLAND -- So THAT’S what all the Memphis Grizzlies angst was all about.
The Golden State Warriors’ giddy march to glory got its first swift kick in the nethers Tuesday night, a clinical 97-90 education from the Mike Conley-enriched Grizz, and it served as an excellent reminder to one and all that this championship stuff is a lot harder than it looks.
Especially when a guy who looks like a hockey player had the best basketball story of the night.
Mike Conley, who had surgery a week ago for a broken orbital bone and still looks like he took a slapshot rather than an elbow, was a huge series-changer from the first of his 27 minutes, hitting 8 of 12 shots, 3 of 6 from three, committing only one turnover and finishing with a game-high 22.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I’m a little tired,” he said afterward. “I didn’t know what to expect, really. I didn’t expect to score the ball, but I was aggressive early, and I just tried to run the team the best I could.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sloppy Warriors fall to Grizzlies in Game 2]
Done, done, done and done. The Grizzlies got their usual games from Zach Randolph, who shall be known from here on out only as Z-Bo, and Marc Gasol, but Conley’s addition and Tony Allen’s absurdly good defense on Klay Thompson made Game 2 look exactly like the kind of game that worried Warrior fans three months ago, and then stopped worrying them as the parade gathered and grew members almost daily.
And now, reality has finally inserted itself, and the Warriors are being asked to remember not how they did things in November or February, but last April when they faced the Los Angeles Clippers in their seven-game blood feud.
In other words, it’s on now, because all the things that had to happen to slap this series into reality did.
- Conley was exceptional running the Memphis offense, chipping in 22 himself and helping the Grizz maintain their shape and composure throughout the evening.
- Memphis, which played at its pace in Game 1, ground the game down even more in Game 2, playing a far more physical (as opposed to dirty or foul-engorged) game than in Game 1, with superb performances in particular by defender extraordinaire Allen and the magnificently named Z-Bo
- The Warriors shot infrequently and poorly (31 for 74, their second-lowest number of attempts all year, and 6 for 26 from three, their third lowest percentage of the year), and they failed to create a 20-point game for anyone for only the third time all year (David Lee had 19 in the loss to Cleveland February 26, and Klay Thompson 15 in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Christmas Day.)
- Neither Stephen Curry (uninspiring), Klay Thompson (hard on the eye in all facets) nor Draymond Green (foul trouble early undercutting his presence) ever made their usual difference. In addition, they all hurled the ball hither and yon, dribbled into spaces that weren’t, and in short finished with 20 turnovers; they committed 16 Sunday, but 21 in the loss to the Grizzles in Game 81.
- They could never get a run worthy of the name, though they played most of the night as though the shot clock had been shortened to 12 seconds, and allowed a killing 9-0 burst by the Grizz in the final 1:15 of the first half to transform a 41-39 deficit into a 50-39 halftime shortfall than never shrunk below six after that.
“That to me was a big part of the game right there,” head coach Steve Kerr said as he sat unhappily at home for the first time since January. “I thought we’d lost our poise tonight, like everyone was in a rush. The game is 48 minutes, it’s an eternity, but we hurried a lot of things, like we were desperate. I thought we played pretty well in the middle of the second quarter, but then in the last few minutes we lost it again. We didn’t handle our business.
“But they (Memphis) deserved to win. This is the playoffs, and when you get outplayed by a really good team, this is going to happen. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re at home or on the road.”
That seemed to matter to many people because the crowd kept trying to will the Warriors in times of hope – usually when Curry was spotting up for one his nine missed threes – or screaming damnations at the officiating crew of Scott Foster, Jason Phillips and Bill Kennedy, who served equally poorly for both sides.
There were even questions about whether the Warriors might have been too amped up because of the pregame MVP presentation to Curry, although the only real surprise or disruption was the fact that the crowd forgot its duty to boo Commissioner Adam Silver for the crime of being Commissioner Adam Silver.
No, this was a beatdown the likes of which the Warriors can barely remember, and all the charts and all the look-aheads and all the assumptions about whether the Clippers or Houston Rockets would be a better conference final matchup were obliterated. Now the Warriors are forced to focus on the matter at hand, with the day-to-day battle of dealing with the league’s best attitude-adjusters.
Sunday was BAU – Biz As Usual. Tuesday was the Day Of Comeuppance. And Saturday is the real start of the Warriors’ postseason, when they face for the first time the question the Memphis Grizzlies ask almost nightly.
“Yeah? What are you gonna do about it?”