After the Memphis Grizzlies were ferociously outplayed in Game 1, losing the series-opener, 101-86, David Joerger’s club rebounded for a series-tying 97-90 win in Game 2 over the Golden State Warriors. Starting point guard Mike Conley returned to action for the first time since bones were broken in his face a week and a half ago, and helped send the Warriors to just their third loss at Oracle Arena this season.
Memphis became the second team to hold the Warriors to less-than 40 first-half points this season and gave up 90 points total—Golden State’s third-lowest point total all season. Mostly every key-to-the-series refrain that was mentioned prior to the start of the Western Conference semifinals — slow the pace, attack the paint, control the perimeter — came to fruition.
Golden State losses are few and far between, but the closest thing to a blueprint for winning against them was laid out Tuesday: attack ball screens on the defensive end.
Steve Kerr’s offense scored 1.41 points per possession on ball screens in Game 1, and recently named league MVP Stephen Curry knocked down a jaw-on-the-floor 83 percent of his attempts off ball screens. However, in Game 2, Memphis held Golden State to 0.97 points per possession on ball screens, shaving off a significant margin of the offense’s fundamental staple.
Memphis defenders fought through screeners, stifling the rhythm of the Warriors pace-and-space offense.
Tony Allen was the defensive linchpin, and it was defense that evened the series. Memphis forced 20 turnovers (tied for sixth-most Golden State has ever had in a playoff game), four of which were steals by Allen:
Memphis’s outspoken perimeter defender held Klay Thompson and Curry to a combined 28.6 percent shooting in direct matchups, called Conley a ‘one-eyed Charlie,’ and let the entire world know who he is.
The energized defense not only controlled the pace, they controlled shot volume: Golden State attempted an average of 87.5 field goals per game in their opening series against the New Orleans Pelicans, but the team attempted just 74 shots against Memphis’s better defense in Game 2, and made just 23.1 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. It was the fourth-lowest three-point shooting percentage Golden State has had in any game this season. This is a team that has a roster stocked with two players who netted more than 230 three-pointers this season and four players who averaged better than 38 percent from beyond the arc.
Against the Warriors, it takes split-second, sound decision-making on the defensive end to stay afloat, and a perimeter defender will almost certainly get burned if they go under on pick-and-roll plays, as evidenced by Beno Udrih crumpling under himself in the Vine below:
Like any team, Memphis’s defense can fall into tunnel vision, focusing on Curry or Thompson rather than on the play itself. In the Vine below, as Harrison Barnes sets a screen for Curry, Marc Gasol loses track of Draymond Green, and the defense coalesces into the paint, leaving a gaping hole for Green on the perimeter to shoot from.
The Grizzlies’ defense, for the most part, was particularly adept at fishing out the Golden State offense. Although it’s unlikely that Golden State will have a similarly rough shooting performance the rest of the series, Memphis suffocating them with a blueprint in Game 2, leading by as much as 20, should be a reassuring sign for Memphis that this series won’t be breezy for Golden State.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.