Here is a link to my Monday column about Game 1 of the Warriors-Grizzlies series. The full text runs below:
OAKLAND — The most important character in the Warriors-Grizzlies series is Mike Conley’s left eye. The white is flaming red. The area around the eye is inflamed and swollen — he had reconstructive surgery. He looks like a guy who got attacked in an alley.
Conley is the Grizzlies point guard and he did not play in the Warriors’ 101-86 slaughter of the Grizzlies in Game 1 of this second-round playoff series. And the Grizzlies need him. Maybe the Grizzlies can’t beat the Warriors even with Conley. The Warriors may be the best basketball team in the universe. It’s looking that way. They are undefeated in the playoffs for a reason.
But the Grizzlies sure can’t beat the Warriors without Conley. The Conley-less Grizzlies are just another team, just another playoff loser. They’re not even Grizzlies. They’re slow and ponderous. Like the slowest dinosaur. And like the dinosaur, the Grizzlies could go extinct. Real fast.
If Conley remains a noncombatant or is inconsequential when he returns, the Grizzlies do not stand a chance. No chance on this Earth. As currently constructed, the Grizzlies have zilch for offense and their defense isn’t so hot, either.
The Grizzlies offense: When Conley is Conley, he frees Marc Gasol for his little pop jump shot. Sets up Gasol. Gasol, a big scorer for Memphis, took 10 shots in the game. Total. He couldn’t get open. For comparison, Stephen Curry took 18 shots. Which means Gasol really missed Conley dishing him the ball.
Zach Randolph didn’t miss Conley so much. Well, appeared not to. Randolph got open near the hoop for his hook shots and smooth lay-ins and dunks, and scored 20. He is a slick operator. Conley usually sets him up, but in Game 1 Conley wasn’t there and Randolph had to score on his own. It was hard work — seemed like one against five — and Randolph looked gassed on defense.
The Grizzlies defense: The lack of Conley also hurts the Memphis D. None of their guards can guard Curry. Conley could make Curry work, at least a little bit. Could meet the ball at half court. Could offer resistance. Could contest Curry’s passes. Could have been THERE.
Without Conley, Curry had the time of his life. Take one sequence early in the third quarter. Nick Calathes was pressed into service against Curry. Curry dribbled down the court. Curry danced. Curry dribbled the ball between his legs. Was having a blast. Curry faked out Calathes like someone shaking off a bath towel. Buried a 19-foot jumper. Buried Calathes.
Afterward in the quiet of the losing locker room, in the hiss of the shower heads and the fog coming from the shower room, Calathes described Curry: “Obviously, he can get his shot off any time. Tough player on the pick-and-roll, and he really reads the game. All around he’s tough to defend.”
Calathes was kind to make the polite effort of answering — Curry scored 22 points against him and others. Listening to Calathes, you got the feeling words don’t describe what Curry does. What it’s actually like to defend him.
How he’s better than the best players in the world. How NBA players don’t comprehend him, can’t translate him into words, can’t express the reality of being out there against Curry, can’t express having to recover from that inevitable shoulder fake, can’t describe fruitlessly thrusting a hand in front of Curry as he rises and flicks that 3 and the shot goes in. Well, words fail, except for these words — he’s the league MVP.
Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger came to the postgame interview room. Before the game, he had done something unprecedented. He’d finished his pregame news conference and then he walked down a gray hallway to the media eating room and walked to the buffet line and grabbed salad and brunch and sat at a table among slobs like me. Sat anonymously. Just another guy in just another sweat suit.
Coaches always ask a ball boy to assemble a plate and bring it to the coach’s office in the locker room so the coach can watch tape and make plans. Get game-ready. That stuff. Not Joerger. Either he is a man of the people — highly admirable. Or he felt plans would not help.
Anyway, he arrived in the postgame interview room, sat behind a table on a raised stage and studied the stat sheet. He recited a bunch of stats to indicate why his team lost. He didn’t sound like a coach. He sounded like a tax accountant going over assets and liabilities. The voice almost robotic.
I asked Joerger what Conley gives him that his team didn’t have on Sunday.
He kept staring at the stat sheet like it was the Torah. “He’s a real pick-and-roll threat. He’s a threat in transition to go end to end. He also shoots a high percentage from 3, especially as a catch-and-shoot guy. It was very jammed up there (in the middle) for Marc.”
He meant Conley is good. He meant Conley could have passed the ball to Gasol for easy shots.
“Can you guard Curry effectively without Conley?”
Joerger half-laughed. “It’s pretty tough. We’ll try to make it tough on him, try to make him take tough shots. He made a couple on just about everybody. He makes tough shots. You’ve got to keep your head up and keep pushing forward.”
You can hear the coach telling his team that — keep your head up and keep pushing forward.
Gasol had another theory about guarding Curry. The Get Physical Theory: “You’ve got to be very physical against him,” Gasol said. “I didn’t think the game was physical at all. We didn’t bring it to that point yet. The next game we have to bring it to our advantage, which is that.”
Did Gasol mean committing assault and battery? Well, good luck being physical without your point guard setting you up. Good luck getting off easy shots. Good luck guarding Curry. And good luck winning.
A bunch of old slow dinosaurs. Brachiosaurus.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.