Only one play really mattered in this series. Oh, you’ll scoff. You’ll scoff me right off the court with that mess. But as much as it seems like this series mattered, it matters much less now that the Warriors won it. Now it’s about what happens in the next series. And if they win that one, the Finals are all that truly matters.
Andre Iguodala wrapped up Jeff Green as he tried to shoot a leaning three with two seconds left. Iguodala got both hands on the ball, one behind and one in front of Green. Hubie Brown thought it was a foul, but that’s the kind of defensive play — particularly against an off-balance three by a guy that had next to no chance of converting — that playoff whistles are supposed to reward. The Grizzlies stopped playing, but Stephen Curry didn’t, and he hit a 2/3-courter.
“That was just a six-point play right there. You know, not calling a foul and then a three-point made basket,” Dave Joerger moaned after the commercial break. “So it’s a tough road to hoe, but they’re going to keep shooting jump shots, we’re going to have to keep attacking.”
Memphis was done at that point. They had come within five points with less than a minute left in the third quarter, Harrison Barnes missed consecutive jumpers, Green raced downcourt, then Curry took showing off to a new level. Marc Gasol was exhausted, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph seemed like they were never really in this one, and Tony Allen literally wasn’t really in this one. All Joerger could do was whine about the officiating and the Warriors’ offensive brilliance.
The second quarter and most of the third quarter notwithstanding, this game represented the Warriors perfectly. Where they are, where they’ve been, where they’re going. So instead of a “here’s what happened and some thoughts on it” recap, I’m going to go into MVP-speech mode and explain why this game provided a close-to-perfect snapshot of every Warrior who played in it.
Stephen Curry: He can now look Jerry West in the eye. West will no doubt let Curry know that his 60-footer came in the Finals and WAS ONLY WORTH TWO POINTS, but then they’ll both laugh.
I thought he was going to have a Curry Game on Wednesday after he went into “screw this” mode to end the first quarter, and while that didn’t end up happening, he did hit a whole mess of threes. His layups are a little off, quite possibly because Gasol is such a strong interior defender, but Curry’s current three-point touch might be the best it’s ever been. Think about that. Curry squashed the Grizzlies in the fourth quarter, the same quarter when the Clippers looked like they were getting tased against the Rockets the night before. 32-6-10 and 8-for-13 on threes! More importantly, he wouldn’t let his team lose.
Klay Thompson: We saw a lot of the greatness that Thompson can bring: He was unconscious in the first quarter. Eight rebounds was huge in a game when Andrew Bogut only had three, and there were a lot of rebounds to be had with all of those Memphis bricks.
HOWEVER, it’s entirely too easy to take the ball from Thompson when he puts it on the floor. The ball just seems to part with Thompson so naturally, like an Autumn leaf falling off a maple tree. That could kill the Warriors in these playoffs unless Steve Kerr takes pains to not let this happen. Based on how Kerr has handled things so far, I have complete confidence that Thompson will not handle the ball in a key fourth quarter moment the rest of the way, other than to get fouled and go to the line when the Warriors have a lead.
Draymond Green: He’s not an elite shooter compared to some of his teammates, but he’s an elite route-runner AND ad-libber when the ball isn’t in his hands. His job was to rebound and convert when Memphis left him open, and that’s what he did. He was in foul trouble, but the officials weren’t kind to Green.
Andrew Bogut: The Warriors made two big mistakes in Game 6. First, Andrew Bogut committed his first foul with 5:34 left in the first quarter ON PURPOSE when Green was dribbling in transition. Hubie Brown said it was a smart foul. With all due respect to a veritable basketball professor, that was a horrendous foul. Green had looked out of sorts throughout the series, and Bogut soon landed in actual foul trouble, which forced Kerr to play David Lee (which led to the team’s other big mistake).
On the other hand, Bogut’s block on Gasol was unbelievable. Centers who’ve been named DPOY don’t want to get their shots blocked by anyone, especially other centers. That was the problem — the Warriors needed Bogut in the middle of this game, when Gasol was the only Grizzly doing anything.
Harrison Barnes: He’s just smoooooooth now, right? He’s looking more and more like James Worthy, which is exactly what Barnes should be. Fast break finisher, turnaround jumpshot on the baseline with the high release, game that turns up during the playoffs. They’re both Tar Heels who are about the same size, so why not?
David Lee: He’s a lot better against a tired Randolph than an angry Gasol. About 10 of Lee’s 14 minutes should’ve gone to Festus Ezeli.
Festus Ezeli: Worlds better than he was in Game 1 against New Orleans. Kerr should feel free to use him against Dwight Howard/DeAndre Jordan for minutes at a time.
Leandro Barbosa: Didn’t take a shot in four-plus minutes. I’m not sure if that’s happened all season, and he helped the Warriors when he was in.
Shaun Livingston: He and the next guy on this list were unbelievable in the last two games of this series. It reminded me of the 1989 49ers, who also had two quarterbacks on the bench. Sorry Livingston, you’re playing the role of Steve Bono in this one. But Bono was really, really good! And he was the Niners’ third-string guy!
That play where Livingston sprinted out after receiving the outlet pass and did that hesitation-dribble thing over Kosta Koufos’ outstretched hand, as if it wasn’t there, was so mesmerizing that I had to rewind it and watch it two more times to see what exactly Livingston did with the ball. It was a lot simpler than what I had assumed.
Andre Iguodala: You’re not supposed to play favorites and root for the teams if you have press access, but this guy’s my favorite. He’s sarcastic as hell, he’s the basketball definition of “laying in the cut,” which should be “lying in the cut,” but now I’ve outed myself as a nerd. Iguodala is the guy you want next to Curry when the Warriors have any sort of do-or-die moment the rest of the way. The play he had on Green was absolutely savage, and here’s what happened after Memphis pulled to within one near the end of the third quarter.
- Iguodala 3pt shot (68-64)
- Ezeli dunk (70-64)
- Randolph layup (70-66)
- Iguodala 3pt shot (73-66)
(This was perfect Iguodala, making a three while getting fouled and worrying more about whatever beverage got spilled on his arms after Gasol knocked him into the first row than hitting one of his best shots of the season.)
- Koufos hook shot (73-68)
- Iguodala block, Curry 3pt shot (76-68)
END THIRD QUARTER
- Barnes jumper (78-68)
- Iguodala 3pt shot (81-68)
— Brown mentioned that Barnes was one of only 11 guys who played in all 82 games. More than anyone else, Barnes is making a ridiculous amount of money during these playoffs.
— The Grizzlies had 12 offensive rebounds, 30 free throw attempts and three turnovers and still only scored 95 points against a team that pushed the pace whenever possible. They went 4-of-16 on threes against a team that went 15-for-32. Ballgame.
— Game 2 was a great story, but Mike Conley looked like a guy who was ready for his season to be over in the last three games of this series. Not that anyone would blame him.
— It was clear in the first quarter who the better team was, and who was going to win this game, but kudos to Memphis for making it a game anyway. They were undermanned and the Warriors kept hitting shots they wouldn’t even dream of taking, but they kept attacking — just like Joerger asked.
— The Warriors are heading to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in my life, and I’m not even close to being young! It’s rare to get this far, and when they had the achievement in their sights they didn’t shrink, they nailed threes and made stops and celebrated the way they had all season. I wrote on 12/4/14 that the bandwagon is going to get crowded. Just wait.