Wow. That Game 1 between the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies was an instant classic. It had everything you could have wanted from a battle between two teams that are excellently coached and feature a number of elite players.
There was nothing one-sided about the game either, with both teams grabbing double-digit leads. The Grizzlies led by as much as 13 points in the first half, while the Warriors led by as much as 10 in the second half. Both teams put on great runs, and more importantly, neither of them gave up until the final whistle.
Here are some of the key observations I’ve made after Game 1.
Klay Thompson is still not afraid of the big moment
We’ve known this about Klay Thompson for many years, but he put on another example of the difference between a good shooter and an all-time great. That, of course, is not running from the moment even when you’ve had a bad overall performance from the field.
With 39.7 seconds left in the game, the Warriors had a chance to inbound the ball in the opposing half. Steve Kerr drew up a classic play, which saw Thompson start on the left elbow, then use an Andrew Wiggins screen to free himself of Desmond Bane on the way to spotting up outside the three-point line. Bane, who is a tenacious defender, managed to catch up to him after fighting through the screen, but bit on a pump fake that freed Thompson up for the open shot.
The entire sequence took 3.1 seconds of game time, leaving 33.6 seconds left on the clock, but it ended up deciding the game. Klay had shot terribly throughout the game, and finished with an overall clip of 6 of 19 (31.5%) and 3 of 10 from three (30%), but that didn’t matter to him when a win was on the line. That particular ability to erase all previous misses from his mind shows why the Warriors missed him during his long road to recovery.
After making that shot, Thompson was also involved in the last two big moments of the game. The first came when he bricked two free throws with 6.7 seconds left in the game, which was uncharacteristic. They were his only two attempts of the evening, and I probably would have bet my life savings on him making at least one of those.
However, he made up for it in the final sequence. With the Grizzlies still only trailing by a point, the Grizzlies ran a great play that saw Ja Morant lose Gary Payton II at the top of the three-point line with enough time to make a drive to the basket. However, unlike the game-winner that he hit against the Minnesota Timberwolves, which saw Anthony Edwards gamble for a steal and leave a wide open lane, Morant ran into a waiting Thompson who had switched to cover the gap. Thompson altered Morant’s layup attempt just enough with his outstretched right hand to help force a miss.
You could almost feel that Thompson knew Morant was never going to pass that ball after losing Payton. Unlike Morant’s Game 5 winner against Minnesota, where Jarred Vanderbilt found himself in no man’s land after Edwards blew the steal attempt, Thompson went straight to cover Ja, didn’t jump, and stayed with his man while forcing him just a little further to the left side of the key. That, in turn, stopped Morant from getting himself up in the air and using his agility to get a better attempt at the basket.
Typically of Thompson, though, he was critical of himself after the final whistle, and was filmed lamenting his missed free throws.
The Grizzlies have heart, but now understand that the Warriors have an equal strength of will
The Grizzlies showed their resilience in the first round by winning 4-2 against the Timberwolves, with three of those wins requiring them to come back from a double-digit fourth quarter lead, including the clinching Game 6.
However, they’ve now learned that they’re facing an entirely different beast in the Warriors. With their championship pedigree, the Warriors have seen just about every situation you can think of in the postseason, so they’re not the type to wilt under pressure when the going gets tough.
The Grizzlies found themselves down 103-93 with 8:25 left, but fought all the way back to take a 116-114 lead with 1:16 remaining on the clock. The difference this time, though, was that the Warriors knew how to deal with that pressure and had veteran leaders that had been in this situation before – even while missing their best defender for the entire second half after Draymond Green was ejected just before halftime.
While Bane had a tough night from the field, finishing with nine points while shooting 3 of 10 overall, he got cover from Morant (34 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists, three steals) and Jarren Jackson Jr. (33 points, 10 rebounds). This was just one of those games where every miss mattered, and the game was decided by a single stop on Morant.
What’s going to be lying on their heads is that two of the splash brothers in Steph Curry and Thompson shot 14 of 39 overall and 8 of 22 from three and they still lost.
Jordan Poole doesn’t need to start to make an impact
Speaking of splash brothers, I’ve got to admit that Jordan Poole proved me wrong today. I thought that he needed to start to be at his most effective, but he’s just as good when playing as a flamethrower off the bench. After starting all five of the Warriors’ games against the Denver Nuggets, Poole played sixth man in Game 1 against Memphis and proceeded to light it up. He finished with 31 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and two blocks in 38 minutes while shooting 12 of 20 overall and 5 of 10 from beyond the arc.
It’s understandable why coach Kerr felt the need to start Gary Payton II, mainly because of the threat posed by Ja Morant, but Poole showed that he’s ready to play whenever his number is called upon. His teammates will have even more confidence in him now knowing that he can lead the team in scoring while coming off the pine. Having that kind of offensive firepower ready to contribute without complaining about a “demotion” is a rare thing to find.
To be fair, Poole also seems to know that he is the heir apparent to Curry. His time in the sun will come, but it feels like he’s ready to let that come naturally.
All I’ve got left to say is that I hope we see a similar kind effort from both sides in Game 2. That was an all-out war and was entertaining for NBA fans. The Grizzlies know that they’re facing a different beast to the one they dumped out of the play-ins last year, and I feel that they’ll adjust. This is the kind of series that we’ll have to take on a game-by-game basis, because I honestly don’t know who comes out of this one to make the Western Conference Finals. All I know is that I’ll enjoy every single game.