NBA playoffs preview: Grizzlies-Warriors
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- As if anyone outside of Memphis needed another reason to doubt if the Grizzlies can outlast Golden State in the Western Conference semifinals, the absence of starting point guard Mike Conley gave them one.
Conley, who hasn't seen action since leaving Game 3 in Portland with now-surgically repaired facial fractures, made his first public appearance in Wednesday's closeout game. From the looks of his badly swollen left eye, the Grizzlies are going to face the NBA's best team (for at least Games 1 and 2) without their top on-ball defender.
"(Backup PG) Nick (Calathes) is going to have to do his job and is going to have to be really aggressive on the ball," Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said. "Once they cross halfcourt, any shot is a good shot for them."
Marc Gasol, C, Grizzlies
Memphis won't beat Golden State behind the 3-point line. But as Gasol said after the Game 5 win against Portland, they can't also give up the paint. That happened in Game 4 at Portland. Portland won.
Gasol is the key to that not happening again. One of the league's premier scoring and defending big men, Gasol will have to keep Andrew Bogut somewhere around his 6.3 points-per-game average and not give way too many offensive rebounds -- Bogut averaged nearly three per game -- while Zach Randolph hauls in enough for a double-double.
Gasol scored 26 points and had 14 rebounds in the clincher against Portland and it will be needed four times more if Memphis is to advance.
Klay Thompson, G, Warriors
If Steph Curry is a nightmare, then Klay Thompson is a night terror. Thompson is shooting a ridiculous 75 percent from beyond the arc against Memphis this season -- the Warriors shoot worse than that from the free-throw line.
It is fair to point out that in the 42-point game Thompson had in the April 13 win against Memphis at Oracle, the Grizzlies played without Tony Allen, who disrupts everything. But that's about the only fair thing to be pointed out about facing Thompson, or his Splash Brother Steph.
In Memphis' lone regular-season win against Golden State on Dec. 16, Thompson made 4 of 5 from deep. Curry made one of his 10 attempts. Not a chance that happens again to a team that makes 3s look like layups.
Courtney Lee, G, Grizzlies
Courtney Lee couldn't have dreamed up a better first-round stat line. In five games against the Trail Blazers, Lee shot 66 percent and averaged 17.2 points per game. That is more than seven points above his season average and while he took only 11 3s, he made six of them. Every 3-pointer he can make will help the often perimeter-deficient Grizzlies.
Equaling his production against Golden State is a challenge, though. In three regular-season meetings, Lee shot 30 percent and averaged only six points -- he averaged fewer points only against Cleveland and New Orleans.
Can the Grizzlies out-do the new NBA? Golden State makes more 3-pointers than anyone in the league. The Grizzlies score more points in the paint than anyone in the league (47 per game).
"If they get to the paint, they are going to open up for 3s," Gasol said. "So, you've got to be consistent and of course be aggressive on the ball."
When Golden State won by 23 last month at FedExForum, it scored 28 points in transition. Memphis wins with defense. Getting back in transition and staying in front of Curry and Thompson will play a big role in the outcome, as will how efficient Memphis is when the Grizzlies are able to slow the pace.
Mike Conley, PG, Grizzlies
How soon Conley can find the perfect super hero mask and return to the Grizzlies lineup will determine the series. Conley, with plates and screws in his face, will travel with the team to Oakland and, despite the lack of a timetable for his return, is hoping to play in the series. To facilitate that hope, the Grizzlies need to steal one on the road.
Conley directs the Grizzlies' pace -- around 96 possessions per game. Golden State gets a league-best 101.6 possessions per game. On top of that, the Warriors are second in the NBA in offensive efficiency and first in defensive efficiency. The cards, with Conley, are already stacked against the Grizzlies. Without him, picking the Grizzlies is tough to justify.
For the Grizzlies to win four games, a hero will have to save the day.
Game 1: Sun., May 3, Memphis at Golden State, 2:30 p.m.
Game 2: Tues., May 5, Memphis at Golden State, 9:30 p.m.
Game 3: Sat., May 9, Golden State at Memphis, 7 p.m.
Game 4: Mon., May 11, Golden State at Memphis, 8:30 p.m.
Game 5: Wed., May 13, Memphis at Golden State, TBD*
Game 6: Fri., May 15, Golden State at Memphis, TBD*
Game 7: Sun., May 17, Memphis at Golden State, TBD*