“That’s one of those special moments,” said Tony Allen. “He’s one of those special kind of guys. They make those kind of shots.”
After Games 2 and 3, a 62-foot heave from Steph Curry hitting nothing but nylon seemed unfathomable. The Warriors finished two consecutive games with a combined total of six threes, an incredible drought for a team known for flash floods.
The term heave is acceptable in basketball terms, but those terms don’t apply to the world of Curry, who with a simple set and flick, made the long-range attempt look like an ordinary jumper. The Most Valuable Player made headlines last month for hitting 77 threes in a row at practice, which should say something about his practice repertoire for such a dedicated shooter.
“Every. Day. And that’s not a lie,” said Curry; on how often he practices longer shots like the one he hit on Friday.
The basket itself didn’t account for any more points than Curry’s seven other made shots from deep, but it was the most significant one in their 108-95 win on Friday. The Grizzlies, after being pronounced extinct after the first quarter barrage from the Warriors, chipped away at a lead that was once 15 points. With seconds to go in the third quarter, following a downright rude block from Andre Iguodala on Jeff Green, Curry wound up with the ball and enough space to flick his wrists enough for a perfect splash.
Most importantly, the shot helped stave off what was another gruesomely slow, ugly Grizzlies quarter: sluggish pace, 30 percent shooting and Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol establishing their presence inside. The shot extended the lead back to eight points and gave the team enough momentum to carry through to the fourth quarter, where the Warriors extended the lead and sent the Grizzlies into hibernation.
“Shot of the game, obviously,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “It stemmed the tide.”
The Warriors came out with a high tide of their own, hitting six three-pointers in the first quarter, Curry and Thompson combining for 22 points forcing the Grizzlies into a 7-for-24 shooting effort. They looked determined, energized and ready to blow it open early in hopes of an easy finish. But, as their giveaway towels pronounced, Memphis is a town and team with incredible heart and there would be no such folding in the FedEx Forum.
As the eighth seed, the New Orleans Pelicans gave the Warriors fits, mostly due to the abnormalities of one Anthony Davis. The series ended in a sweep, but not without some needed heroics from Curry and a return to form on the defensive end. Despite the sweep, the Warriors looked challenged in ways, and given the fact it’s the playoffs that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
What was a surprise was how the team came out in Game 2 and 3 of this series. Turnovers ruled as the Grizzlies snagged loose balls, fought for rebounds and gutted inside to establish a presence the team hadn’t experienced all season. The team felt pressure, a feeling of angst for the first time in their historic 67-win season. The voices of critics rose, the believers began to doubt and Kerr needed to make adjustments for a team that didn’t need many in the regular season.
Kerr and his coaching staff comprised a slew of defensive adjustments that completely altered the series and left the Grizzlies with no viable response. Tony Allen became unplayable – both literally and figuratively – as the series closed, Randolph and Gasol were suddenly thwarted and Mike Conley never found his rhythm again after his incredible performance at Oracle Arena in Game 2.
The pressure felt in Game 4 was exactly what this team needed. It may be cliché, but even after a 67-win season, this team needed experience. The team has veterans, but the core is young, and the adversity and performance following challenges of that magnitude is what champions are made of. No one waltzes to a title, even a team coming off a historically great regular season will struggle.
Kerr himself, like Curry, has veterans around him to guide the path. Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams concocted a new game plan following the troubling back-to-back games and they worked to perfection. Curry and Co. entrusted his latest coaching staff, executed said plan and the results followed. There’s no guarantee such changes even exist in previous seasons.
“We were just all over the place,” said Harrison Barnes of past playoff teams. “I don’t think we had the same sense of purpose that we have now.” Purpose combined with precociousness means endless possibilities, and that’s what this team is finding out this season. The talent is no longer the issue, it’s everything else that comes with a championship caliber team that’s now being adopted.
Memphis presented Golden State with problems, but they simply couldn’t overtake the firepower. For as great as Randolph and Gasol are, the lack of talent around them failed to produce any type of comparable success. They proved to be a worthy foe and gave the title favorites an opportunity to better themselves not only on the floor, but mentally as well.
The Warriors await the Houston Rockets or the Los Angeles Clippers, but as Curry bluntly stated after their series clinching win on Friday, it doesn’t matter. This team is just that good.