These are the playoffs of the lower seed, and the Memphis Grizzlies perform according to that trend, taking a 2-1 lead in their series with the Golden State Warriors, beating them 99-89 in game 3 of the conference semifinals.
Marc Gasol had a hue first half (double double before the break) and finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Zach Randolph finished with 22 points and 8 boards as the Warriors continue to struggle with his presence near the rim or when he’s trying from a big further away, usually from the right side of the basket. But the two men that the turnaround in this series is written after are Mike Conley and Tony Allen.
Allen lost his place in the starting lineup this season and won it back. He might not be too polished offensively, but his influence defensively is simply impossible to ignore, especially in the playoffs. He is harassing every possession and every perimeter player he’s close to, making Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry go through some downgrade due to his proximity. The two of them have shot just 24.2% from beyond the arc over the last two games, and the Warriors, as evolved as they are, can’t win when their two best scorers can’t hit the long ball.
Allen finished with 4 steals and 8 points, and his ability to play almost like a free linebacker and attack certain pressure points comes from Mike Conley’s return. The mask, the eye fracture; all those don’t matter. He’s not the sharpest offensively, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-10 from the field. But his defense is what matters the most. The Grizzlies can run the game through Gasol as well if they need to. Conley not enabling any cracks to form defensively is what makes his return so valuable.
Courtney Lee scored 11 points, non bigger than his 3-pointer with 2:47 remaining. The Warriors had just narrowed the lead down to four points (88-84) following a Harrison Barnes layup, but Allen managed to draw two defenders to him while he was awkwardly dribbling into the paint, leaving Lee wide open for the three-point shot. The Warriors never got closer than six points from that point, their long game completely failing them.
Steve Kerr sees this as his players’ moment of truth. Suddenly he’s talking about them being young, even though they’ve all been through playoff series together. Stephen Curry shot just 8-of-21 from the field, Draymond Green is completely ineffectual offensively for a second straight game which might be the most painful thing, while the Warriors aren’t getting any special boost from their bench.
If a bad shooting team like the Grizzlies is hitting from the field and from beyond the arc at a better percentage than the Warriors, than someone is doing something wrong on the favorites’ side. Stephen Curry simply says he has to perform better, but it’s not just about raising his game. The Warriors are walking into traps on offense and over commit on defense, leaving guys open. Combine that with some lucky, shot clock beaters by Gasol and Randolph, and it’s no wonder the Grizzlies suddenly have control of the series.