The Memphis Grizzlies couldn't have asked for a better first-round opponent than the Minnesota Timberwolves. As many matchup problems as Minnesota created, the Grizzlies drew one of the only teams in the playoffs with less playoff experience than them. They tried desperately to give away that series. They trailed by at least 13 points in five of the six games. They committed insane fouls and defended sloppily and committed some of the worst turnovers you'll ever see in the postseason and none of it mattered because the Timberwolves were even messier. Minnesota was something of a trial run for Memphis, a forgiving enough opponent to survive against as they adjusted to playoff basketball.
Well, let's hope they learned their lesson, because the Western Conference bracket is about to throw them into the deep end with Golden State. The Warriors don't give up 13-point leads. They turn them into 30-point leads. Play sloppy against them and you'll be dead within a quarter. Stephen Curry has played more playoff games (117) than their entire regular-season starting lineup (106). If you value playoff experience, Golden State should enter this series as heavy favorites.
But it's the No. 2-seeded Grizzlies that will have home-court advantage in this series. The Grizzlies took three of the four regular-season matchups as well, and when these two teams played in San Francisco a year ago for the right to advance to the playoffs, it was Memphis that advanced. The Warriors may have the wisdom that comes with experience, but the Grizzlies have the fearlessness that comes with youth. They don't care about Curry's three championships. They're four wins away from the Western Conference Finals, and they think they're perfectly capable of getting them.
Here's everything you need to know as the Warriors and Grizzlies prepare for battle, including the schedule and three key questions.
Memphis Grizzlies (2) vs. Golden State Warriors (3)
- Game 1 (at MEM): Sunday, April 30 | 3:30 p.m. ET | TV: ABC
- Game 2 (at MEM): Tuesday, May 3 | 9:30 p.m. ET | TV: TNT
- Game 3 (at GSW): Saturday, May 7 | 8:30 p.m. ET | TV: TBD
- Game 4 (at GSW): Monday, May 9 | 10:00 p.m. ET | TV: TBD
- Game 5* (at MEM): Wednesday, May 11 | TBD | TV: TNT
- Game 6* (at GSW): Friday, May 13 | TBD | TV: TBD
- Game 7* (at MEM): Monday, May 16 | TBD | TV: TNT
1. Who controls the glass?
The Grizzlies are exactly the sort of team that should struggle to score in a playoff setting. They ranked just 22nd in half-court points per play in the regular season and improved only slightly in the playoffs. Generally speaking, the playoffs are dominated by half-court offense. Even with Golden State's notorious turnover problems in mind, Memphis probably isn't going to rack up as many easy transition points as it typically does.
Its other source of easy offense? That's a bitter harder to parse. The Grizzlies were the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA during the regular season and it wasn't close. They pulled in 33.8 percent of available offensive rebounds, a full percentage point above any other team, but 4.6 of those offensive rebounds per game were coming from Steven Adams, an obsolete center from a playoff perspective. Minnesota played him off of the floor in a single game. He's simply too slow to play pick-and-roll defense in the playoffs—most big men are when Curry is involved—and without contributing much beyond putbacks offensively, the Grizzlies downsized in the name of versatility.
Yet when the series ended, they'd still managed to pull in 36 more offensive rebounds than the Timberwolves. In fairness, offensive rebounding against Minnesota isn't difficult. The Timberwolves ranked 28th in defensive rebounding rate in the regular season. The Warriors ranked sixth. Three of their wins over the Timberwolves were by single digits and in the series as a whole they were plus-30 in second-chance points. Can the Grizzlies even come close to that total against even a downsized version of the Warriors? And if they can't, where are they making up the difference?
2. Can Jaren Jackson Jr. stay on the floor?
Adams might be too slow to defend Golden State's perimeter scorers, but Jaren Jackson Jr. certainly is not. He's among the switchiest big men in the NBA, ideally suited for mixing coverages in the ever-lethal Curry-Draymond Green pick-and-roll. Jackson is quick enough to hedge and recover, long enough to impede Curry as a passer if he blitzes, light enough on his feet to switch onto Curry and defend him outright and traditional enough to play the cat-and-mouse game of drop-coverage. Curry and Green can dice up just about anyone. Outside of the proven commodities like Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo and Giannis Antetokounmpo, you might not be able to find a big man in the NBA better-suited to containing them than Jackson.
Yet Jackson barely managed to spend half of the first round on the floor. Through the first five games against Minnesota, Jackson committed over eight fouls per 36 minutes. Some of that is the cost of doing business against Karl-Anthony Towns. Some of that was simply sloppiness. Jackson committed several entirely avoidable offensive fouls that deprived Memphis of his defensive impact.
The Warriors are going to attack Jackson early for precisely this purpose. They'd love to try their luck against Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman without Jackson in their way. But Golden State ranked just 25th in free throw attempts per 100 possessions in the regular season. This is a ball-movement and jump-shooting team. They aren't designed to play someone like Jackson off of the floor. Jackson committed five fouls in Game 6 against Minnesota, but needed more than 34 minutes to get there. That's the output Memphis needs in this series. If Jackson averages the 22.6 minutes he did in Games 1-5? Golden State wins. If Jackson can't finish games because he's fouled out? Golden State wins. If he's on the floor for 34 minutes, the Grizzlies have a chance.
3. How good are the Warriors, really?
Golden State's new death lineup of Curry, Green, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins was the talk of the first round. Guess how many minutes it has played together in its entire existence. Probably a couple hundred, right? No? Surely at least 50, then? Nope. Just 39. The most dangerous lineup in the NBA has not even played one, full game together. Their first live action as a fivesome came in the playoffs.
It may not have looked like it as the Warriors laid waste to a Denver team that made the playoffs only by the grace of Nikola Jokic, but we really haven't seen much of the Warriors this season. Thompson missed the beginning of the regular season. Green missed the middle. Curry missed the end. The three of them shared just 11 total regular-season minutes. Their playoff track record is obviously beyond reproach, but it's hard to take much away from a series against a team missing two of its three best players, especially when Curry didn't start the first four games of that series.
Well, as inexperienced as they are, the Grizzlies represent a real, playoff-caliber opponent. They have home-court advantage and the NBA's sixth-ranked defense. If the Golden State flambés Memphis as it did Denver? Move over Boston and Phoenix, because we have our new championship favorite. There's a compelling case to be made that Golden State has already seized that title. They have significantly more playoff experience than either. They're elite on both sides of the ball and deeper than any of the eight teams left in the playoff field. All that's left is for the Warriors to show their work. With Phoenix looming in the next round, this is Golden State's chance to prove to the basketball world that is really and truly back on top.