MEMPHIS, TN -- Just as Game 2 of this Western Conference semifinal series looked nothing like Game 1, so it was that Game 4 looked nothing like Game 3, which is why Game 5 is the new pivotal game and all signs point toward a Game 7.
In other words, everything you thought the Warriors-Grizzlies series was about turned into something completely else Monday night, and the Warriors who couldn’t shoot, pass or defend well enough suddenly covered all (well, okay, most) of those bases and then some in a stunningly routine 101-84 win.
Stunning? Only in its routine-ness. Routine? Yes, in that the Warriors remembered how they did this 72 other times, and decided that just because the playoffs can be grind doesn’t mean that you have to submit to being grounded.
In either event, both the Warriors and Grizzlies have now shown each other a round of what they do and a round of adjustments, and the marathon is now a sprint, and the adjustments have to come faster now that the annoying luxury of multiple days off is finally done.
But a number of questions were answered, and answered loudly.
- Stephen Curry with the wavering confidence? He didn’t get a shot off for the game’s first 8:28 and then got every shot he needed en route to a 33-point, eight-rebound night. He slowed down his contribution early so that the offense might find its own pace, a gamble of sorts against a Memphis team that likes the slow roll, but when he hit his first shot at 3:32, a 16-foot pull-up jumper that put Golden State up 18-16, both he and his teammates seemed to relax as one.
- Draymond Green the foul magnet? Oh, he still got those, but interspersed them with the offense he provided in Game 1 to help the Warriors start quickly; he closed with an arrhythmic but very Green-like 16 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and seven turnovers.
- Harrison Barnes who couldn’t be found? He was conspicuous early, tackling the problem of guarding Zach Randolph (albeit with considerable help) when the tone of the game was well and truly decided and still finished with 12 and 6.
- Andre Iguodala who looked like he was fighting his shot again? He re-loved it (“It’s been there the last week or so, but when it goes in, I guess it looks different,” he said of his 11-point, three-trey night) while retaining his standard defensive menace and balance.
- And David Lee who couldn’t scare up health or minutes? He got 15 and most of them were hard-earned and sharply productive.
Oh, and the Grizzlies who were so evidential in Game 3? Tony Allen, the nine-armed defender, decided he was a shooter because center Andrew Bogut closed off his chances at the goal with disastrous results. Randolph was limited to 12 and 11, and Marc Gasol’s 19 and 10 came with high volume shooting that rendered him highly inefficient and frustrated at once.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors find form, rout Grizzlies in Game 4]
And there were tactical tweaks as well, most notably a three-guard set by the Warriors that helped liquefy their offense, and Barnes to deal (successfully, as it turned out) with the Z-Bo Paradox, and Bogut erasing Allen.
“We first started thinking about that couple of days ago,” head coach Steve Kerr said, “but we decided on it yesterday. He (Barnes) had to be aggressive tonight because he was guarding Zach, and he definitely was.”
But mostly, it was the Warriors letting the game evolve rather than rushing the process (sorry, slipped into KerrSpeak there) and creating crisis out of urgency. They let their natural offensive rhythm return at its own pace, and when it did, the Grizzles were the ones ground down, and then out.
Not that they’re there yet; Kerr was adamant that they understand that.
“I want the message they take to be satisfied with the effort, hungry to improve and cognizant that nothing has been done yet,” he said. “I had to call a time out early in the third quarter because we took five contested shots in a row, and I had to tell them, ‘Guys, move the ball. Move the ball!’ So we’re still trying to find that place. We’re not there yet.”
That's when he mentioned the 21 turnovers, which gives them 58 in three games, typically disastrous for many teams but somehow not nearly so for Golden State.
In other words, the message is now that Game 5 doesn’t have to go the way of Game 4 any more than Game 4 had to follow the developments of Game 3. The Warriors made a number of defensive adjustments, Curry made one big adjustment, and the result was a wire-to-wire win that was in many ways their best playoff game. This series is still a lot of elbows and knees and hard postups and forcibly moving screens and thumps and thuds. The Warriors aren’t as their normal level of elegance, but elegance is a luxury now.
“We’re learning a little bit more every day about playoff basketball,” Iguodala said. “This wasn’t a must-win but it was a must-win for us. We made some adjustments they hadn’t seen, now I’m sure they’ll make theirs, so it’s up to us to keep getting better, keep moving forward.”
One turn of the grinder’s wheel at a time.