Here is a link to my column about Game 4. The full text runs below:
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — What the Warriors did to Memphis was brilliant. Nothing short of brilliant. They easily defeated the Grizzlies 101-84 in Game 4 of this playoff series.
Steve Kerr and his coaches and players spent Sunday morning studying film. You probably could feel the smoke and heat pouring out of that room from sheer brain effort. And what they came up with was one of those Eureka things. “We’ve got it!!!”
They decided to turn basketball defense on its head. Their defense had been no big deal in two consecutive losses to the Grizzlies, two games in which Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, those big tough guys, devoured the Warriors. So, the Warriors’ brain trust — I’m thinking assistant Ron Adams had lots of input — well, the brain trust decided Andrew Bogut would guard Tony Allen, the Grizzlies’ small forward, the Grizzlies 6-4 small forward. Bogut is a 7-footer. Him guarding Allen was like a giraffe guarding a squirrel.
And it worked. That’s what was so brilliant. It worked. Allen is a defensive genius, but when it comes to shooting the ball he’s strictly a bricklayer. The Warriors were quite happy for him to move against the slower Bogut, for him to shoot to his heart’s content. Clunk. He was so bad the Grizzlies had to remove him from the game. Early. Instead of being a presence, he was a distinct absence.
Let’s allow Bogut to narrate the strategy, Bogut glowing in the after-game sweat at his cubicle in the undersized visitors’ locker room:
“We had a game plan to pack the paint,” he said. “I started on Tony Allen and that threw them off a little bit. I was just roaming around being the help defender and letting Tony Allen shoot. We were daring Tony Allen and a couple of other guys to shoot 3s. If they made them, we were going to live with it. If he scores 20 by knocking down 3s and jumpers, we’ll give them the seed to the next round.
“They sat him down. They took him out of the game to get their offense flowing, and that’s better for us because he’s their best defender. There were quirky matchups. They had confidence in me.”
Here’s a translation of what Bogut said. He didn’t guard Allen diligently. Nothing too stringent. Instead, Bogut roamed around as a second line of defense. He was the center fielder or the free safety. See what I’m saying? The last line of defense. The creative one. And the strategy worked. Brilliance to the max.
Harrison Barnes guarded big Randolph — a prawn guarding a whale. And Randolph had a crummy game — 12 points. And the Warriors clogged middle, just took it away. The middle is where the Grizzlies live. They drive the paint and dunk and hit layups and pass to teammates for more layups. The Warriors kept knocking away shots and passes, and the Grizzlies fizzled.
Once they fell behind — and they fell behind early — no way they could come back. They are not built for comebacks. They are built to grab a lead and hold on for dear life. Once they fell behind, it’s not like they 3-point you to death. Forget about it.
Kerr had called this game a “moment of truth” for his team. He used that phrase a million times. And he was right. It was a moment of truth and the test of a lifetime. And the Warriors passed the test.
Here is Kerr, a hoops poet, on the Warriors’ truth moment: “No matter who you are, at some point you’re going to be under a lot of pressure. Every team that’s alive is a great team. Both teams want to win really badly. You’re going to hit some adversity and you have to respond, and our guys responded well.”
He also said, “You’re desperate when you’re down 2-1 on the road.” Meaning the Warriors had hit desperation level and found a way to thrive. And he said, until Game 4 against Memphis, the Warriors’ defense “was not playoff level.”
So, sure, the Warriors need to get brilliantly creative. And they needed one other thing.
They needed the MVP show up. Stephen Curry. That guy. He had been a shadow Curry the first three games of the series. The Grizzlies dogged him — mixed metaphor. Although Curry played well, he didn’t play special. The Grizzlies can live with a mere well from Curry. It’s special that hurts — when Curry gets off, just gets off like hitting four 3s, like shooting 50 percent, like scoring 33 points. All of which he did on Monday. He showed what it means to be the MVP. What it really means Take over the game. Make the difference. Be the best player on the floor — by far. Be special. Be MVP special.
When Curry is all that and when the Warriors’ defense is tougher and more brutal than the Grizzlies’ defense — brutal in a good sense — the Warriors will beat these guys. Absolutely should beat these guys. The newly creative Warriors should win this series.
Before the game, Memphis coach Dave Joerger said something odd, or maybe it was prescient. “We came into this series believing, regardless of what anybody else thought, it would be a seven-game series. And we were going to just keep punching away.”
It may go seven, but the Warriors should win.
Something else happened before the game. I was chatting with some media people who cover the Grizzlies. I said I was amazed the Grizzlies were up 2-1 and had handled the Warriors. I expected the Grizzlies media to leap to the Grizzlies’ defense. No way.
Before the series, they told me, the local media had polled themselves trying to predict what would happen. They all said the Warriors would win in four or five game. The ones who said five games admitted they were being generous to Memphis. That’s how much they considered this series a rout. “Our heads are spinning. We’re so confused,” one local writer told me before Game 4.
Well, the Warriors crushed the Grizzlies. And now the world makes sense again. And heads refuse to spin.
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