Here is a link to my Saturday column about the Warriors. The full text runs below:
Memphis, Tenn. — The Warriors didn’t merely move on to the NBA’s Western Conference finals. Forget the polite concept of moving on. The Warriors stormed into the finals, crashed the gates and left carnage on the court. The carnage was the Memphis Grizzlies, RIP. Final score 108-95.
It’s not like the game was easy. That’s the point. The Grizzlies fell behind early and trailed by 15. But they came back, got the game to within one point in the third quarter. Hard, grinding basketball. Grizzlies basketball.
The Warriors won anyway. Just ran away from the Grizzlies — after Stephen Curry hit a 3-pointer from 62 feet away to end the third quarter. More on that in a moment. The Warriors had allowed the Grizzlies to get close, feel good, feel confident. And then the Warriors murdered them. Strictly no contest.
The Warriors beat the Grizzlies at their own game. They served notice on the league they can win any way. They can win a run-and-gun game, and they can win a grit-and-grind game. They simply can win, and they do win. There is great meaning in that. Perhaps we haven’t yet seen the full meaning.
And that brings us to one incontrovertible fact: This is the first time the Warriors have earned the conference finals since — get this — 1975-1976. That’s 39 years. That’s babies being born and turning into adults with kids of their own. We’re talking a long time.
“This is all new ground for the Warriors,” Steve Kerr said afterward. “Thirty-nine years since we’ve been in the conference finals. I jumped on board this year and the train was already rolling.”
Draymond Green on the same subject: “This team set goals and, in order to reach those goals, we have to cross that path. To be at this point is phenomenal. We also know we have a lot of work left to do.”
On Friday, the Warriors showed how dazzling they are — they shoot 3-pointers fast. Stephen Curry. Klay Thompson. Andre Iguodala. Speed of light. Not even solid defenders like the Grizzlies could keep up. Can anyone keep up? The Warriors outscored Memphis 45-12 in 3-pointers. Unheard of.
So, yes, the Warriors served notice.
But here’s the thing. Although the Warriors’ offense is other-worldly, they beat the Grizzlies three games in a row because of defense. Defense pure and simple. The Grizzlies are a rugged defensive team. The Warriors are more rugged. In the paint, they will knock you out. Shut you down. Defense is what the Warriors had to learn to win this series, to be elite, to serve notice. They learned. They never let the Grizzlies score 100 or more points in any of the six games.
“It was a moment of truth for all of us,” Kerr said afterward, referring to the series as a whole. “We needed to step up defensively in a big way and we did the last three games. That was the theme the last three games.”
Listen to another voice on the defense. Listen to Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams, a philosopher of defense, on the quick, urgent, necessary evolution of Warriors’ defense against the Grizzlies:
“The reality is the great teams don’t back off on any possession. I don’t care how bleak a defensive possession might look. You can still find work within that possession. The same holds true offensively. You want the most out of every offensive possession. In these kinds of series, the defense is more paramount to your success. That’s what evolves. It’s the evolution we want our group to understand and implement, in a nutshell.”
The Warriors implemented it in a nutshell and they also implemented it on the court. The Grizzlies barely could score underneath the hoop. Too much Andrew Bogut. Too much Warriors team defense. Too much Warriors.
Before the game, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger explained how it feels to go against the Warriors defense: “Although they don’t have three or four Boguts down there, they are long all the way across the board. Their 2, 3 and 4 men are all 6-7, 6-8 and 6-9. It’s like shooting a beach ball through a bunch of tree branches.”
The tree branches won.
OK, now for Curry’s shot. You cannot discuss this game without drooling over his shot. His sling shot. His kill shot. His shot with time running out in the third quarter. His shot after Memphis made the game close and sweaty.
He was deep in his own backcourt. Time was running out in the quarter. He shot the ball. The ball flew. The ball went in. The red lights on the backboard started blinking. End of quarter. Warriors up by eight. Game essentially over. Ditto for the series.
Please hear Kerr on that shot. Kerr could be a writer. “It wasn’t quite a close-out shot, but it was the play of the game. I actually thought it was going in. I love Steph because he doesn’t care about his percentage. When I was a player, I’d pause. ‘I don’t want to miss another one here so my percentage will go down.’ Steph doesn’t care. When he let it go and it’s in midair, I said, ‘I think this is going in.’ It stemmed the tide.”
Actually, it made the tide go the other way.
Then Kerr turned playful. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this but every day in practice as we’re warming up, the whole team is firing full-court shots, half-court shots, drop kicks; I like the drop kick personally. Every day we’ve got music going. All I can think is if Lute Olson (Kerr’s college coach) could see our team warm up. He would think, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s kind of our way to loosen up. Mo Speights and Steph are the two most accurate full-court, three-quarter-court shooters.”
So, the Warriors win had a certain playfulness. But there was nothing humorous about eliminating Memphis. The series was as serious as basketball can get. The Grizzlies tested the Warriors and that was good. The Warriors grew, got better in these six brutal games.
On Tuesday, they will play either the Rockets or Clippers in the conference final. On Friday, they served notice.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.