Just like that, all of the suspense went out of a potential playoff matchup between the Warriors and Grizzlies. The Grizz have no chance against this Warriors squad. None, nada. As I tweeted in the fourth quarter, the only thing Grizzlies fans have left to look forward to this season is the final fall of the guillotine in the playoffs.
The media storyline will be that the Warriors have a strong enough and deep enough front line to neutralize the Grizzlies’ greatest strength. And the Warriors have Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and the Grizzlies don’t. That’s all very true, and a good summary of the situation.
But let’s take a deeper look. There are a number of very interesting reasons why the Grizzlies can’t possibly match up against the Warriors, that I doubt will ever get mentioned by the major media:
The Zebo Cross-match: The Warriors broadcasters acted like cross-matching Andrew Bogut onto Zach Randolph and guarding Marc Gasol with Draymond Green was a new and exciting invention of Steve Kerr’s. Regular readers of this blog know that isn’t the case. I have been arguing for it for years, and Mark Jackson discovered it for himself, when he had a healthy big to play.
Putting Bogut (or Ezeli) on Zach Randolph spells doom for the Grizzlies, just as putting Bogut (or Ezeli) on Blake Griffin spells doom for the Clippers. Both Zebo and Griffin succeed by bullying inside, and when they can’t bully, there’s nothing left. The offenses of both their teams collapse, as the three point shooters of both the Grizzlies and the Clippers feed off of the open looks they get when their big men are doubled in the post.
Bogut on Zebo, bye bye double team.
The Gasol Cross-Match: You’d think that the Grizzlies could punish Dray in this matchup by simply moving Gasol to the low post. It’s not that simple. First of all, Gasol is unused to the low post. It’s not his bread and butter. Don Nelson used to delight in laying traps like this for teams. I quite clearly remember him laying a trap for Alvin Gentry, by guarding Channing Frye with Anthony Morrow. The next thing you knew, the three point shooting Frye was posted up on the low block. He did wind up eating Morrow alive, of course. But in the process, the Suns went completely away from their bread and butter, Nash and Stoudemire pick and roll with a spread floor. As Nellie was fond of saying, “You can only punish one matchup at a time.”
So yes, perhaps the Grizz can punish Dray a bit in this matchup, but only by going completely away from their preferred offense, which is Gasol in the high post and Randolph down low.
But maybe they can’t even punish this matchup. The Grizzlies spacing is infinitely worse when Gasol posts up rather than Randolph, and you saw the Warriors time and again sagging into the paint with impunity to give Dray help. With Randolph and Tony Allen off the ball, the Grizz simply don’t have the shooters to punish a double team of Gasol.
Checkmate. And kudos to Steve Kerr for getting it right.
The Grizzlies Defense: The Grizzlies have a vaunted defense, but it is completely powerless to stop the Warriors. For two reasons, their speed deficit, and their length deficit.
Speed deficit: This should be obvious to all, and again, kudos to Steve Kerr for transitioning this Warriors team to all-out Nellieball. With Draymond Green on the floor, the Grizzlies don’t have a prayer of guarding the Warriors. Not on the fast break, and not in the half court.
As the season has progressed, Green has gotten more and more comfortable handling the ball, and running the fast break. In the last few weeks, his confidence in this aspect of his game has exploded, and he has turned on the afterburners. He is rebounding the ball, taking off, and beating entire teams down court. When he is confronted, his finishing game has grown enormously. We’re seeing more And Ones than we are misses around the hoop. And of course, he is brilliant at finding the open man out at the three point line.
Can Zach Randolph keep up with him? Not a prayer.
Nor can Randolph guard Green out at the three point line. He has the same problem David Lee has when trying to guard a stretch-four. Not only that, but playing outside removes Randolph from his area of greatest effectiveness, defensive rebounding under the basket. Zebo finished with 3 boards, and the Warriors, who have struggled with rebounding all year, actually out-rebounded the monstrous Grizzlies on their home floor. Not that surprising. As I’ve pointed out for years, that tends to happen when you spread out big teams.
The Tony Allen Cross-Match, and the Length Deficit: Dave Joerger rather predictably cross-matched his best defender Tony Allen onto Klay Thompson, and hid Courtney Lee on Harrison Barnes. A decent idea, on paper. But the problem with this decision is that Tony Allen, while one of the most ferocious defenders in the league, is only 6-4″, and can’t challenge Klay’s shot even when he guards him tightly. Klay didn’t even feel his presence, just buried shot after shot in his mug.
The other problem with this cross-match is that it left Mike Conley on Stephen Curry. And while Conley is also an excellent defender who does give Curry problems, you simply can’t guard Curry with a point guard in the playoffs and expect to win. As has been proven, you have to get length on him. Extreme length.
So what should Joerger have done? Well, he doesn’t really have any good options, because the Grizzlies lack what I have always called “playoff length” on the wings. The Spurs and the Warriors both have playoff length, which allows not only the switching and disruption we are so familiar with this season on the defensive side, and not only the ability to play Nellieball on the front line while remaining competitive on the boards, but also the ability to get one’s shot off effortlessly in the playoffs over good defenders, as we saw tonight from Klay, and we’ve seen for years from Danny Green and Ginobili. And also from players like Mitch Richmond, and Michael Finley and Stephen Jackson. And Mario Elie, and Raja Bell and Kelenna Azubuike. It was those players who opened my eyes as to why Don Nelson always wanted great size in his two guards, and led to my understanding of playoff length. It’s no accident that both the Spurs and the Warriors emphasize size on the wings. Greg Popovich, Chris Mullin, Larry Riley, Travis Schlenk: they’re all from the Don Nelson tree, aren’t they?
The Grizzlies can get longer on the wings by changing their starting lineup. When they traded for Jeff Green, they started him at small forward, and benched Tony Allen. They gave up on that idea after a recent funk, and swapped the two players in the rotation. But if the Grizzlies want to match up with the Warriors, I think they need to try a third option: Bench Courtney Lee.
It’s obvious to me that the Grizzlies have to get Tony Allen on Steph Curry. Have to, no ifs, ands or buts. You put your best defender on Curry, and work from there. It also gets more length on Curry. Not the length of Danny Green or Matt Barnes, but more length than Conley.
Then you put Jeff Green on Klay. Again, not perfect, because Green is not a great defender, and Klay can probably beat him off the dribble. But Green has the length to run Klay off the three point line, and that is a major victory compared to what we saw tonight.
And you hide Mike Conley on Harrison Barnes, and dare the Warriors to try and beat you with that matchup. Which is what Popovich did, and will do again. Conley would actually be a much better defender of Barnes than Tony Parker, because he has the ability to completely take away Barnes’ dribble.
With the right matchups, the Grizzlies can defend the Warriors better than we saw on this night. But not well enough. And not without sacrificing some of their own offense. The real problem with Tony Allen, the biggest problem, is his inability to shoot from outside. And if you’re forced to sub Jeff Green for Courtney Lee to match up defensively, your outside shooting becomes that much worse. Which leads me to:
The Rest of the Story: The innumerable other reasons why the Grizzlies can’t hope to match up with the Warriors.
- The Firepower Deficit: also known as the difference between hard twos and easy threes. No further explanation needed.
- Spacing: the Warriors have it, the Grizzlies don’t.
- Passing: the Warriors are the best passing team in the league, and with the spacing created by their Nellieball lineup, the slower Grizzlies don’t have a prayer of rotating in time. As we frequently saw tonight. Meanwhile, the cross-match on Randolph took away a big part of the Grizzlies inside-out passing game.
- Frontline depth: As we saw tonight, the Grizzlies can’t get the Warriors in foul trouble, and they can’t wear the Warriors down. Lee for Green. Ezeli for Bogut. Speights in reserve. Barnes in a pinch. A big part of past Grizzlies big playoff wins against the Spurs and the Clippers came as a result of wearing down and dominating their front lines. Against the Warriors, not going to happen.
- Coaching: I’ll take our guys.
Feltbot’s Farewell: In the days leading up to this game, I stated on twitter and in the last thread that regardless of the outcome of this game — which the Warriors flat out didn’t need — the Warriors would destroy the Grizzlies in the playoffs. I was utterly certain of it.
And naturally, I took quite a bit of heat for it, from media members and others, who thought it was ridiculous to predict something which could simply not be known. I’ll let you decide whether I actually knew something before this game. Or the countless other times I’ve gone out on a limb to give away free picks and predictions to my readers.
I’ll just say that I’ve been relying on my opinions of things which simply can’t be known to make a pretty good living all of my life, in the markets, on the green felt, and in the arena of betting on NBA basketball.
The good news for the many whom I’ve endlessly annoyed over the last few years with my early prognistications, player evaluations, predictions and free picks, is that this season will be my last hurrah as a Warriors blogger. I’m hanging up my keyboard.
When I began this blog, it was with a cause. I am an advocate, by inclination as well as training, and when I started blogging, I had a case to make. The case for a universally despised coach (who was being run out of town on a rail by the Warriors media), for the ingenious and beautiful style of basketball he invented, and for a player whom I suspected, as soon as I laid eyes on him, would be not just one of the foremost practioners of that style, but one of the all-time greats. [Edit: I thought I might have a better, earlier link here, and this morning I had the time to find it. Here is something I wrote about Stephen Curry before he had ever played a regular season NBA game.]
That case has been made. The last four NBA champions have been Nellieball teams, and Nellieball is sweeping the league, the recognized system of the future. Joe Lacob has, after four agonizingly long years, finally hired a Nellieball coach (completely unwittingly, of course), who has the Warriors pointed at a championship. The Warriors media — so vituperous on the subject of smallball for years — have now all turned as a herd and are bellowing in the opposite direction.
And Stephen Curry is the MVP of the league.
My friends, as I watch Warriors games now, I can no longer find anything to advocate. I’m not one to write about what everyone can see for themselves. I’m not one for bandwagons, or herds. As this glorious season unfolds, this Nellieball championship run, all I have left to say to you is what I say to myself before every game…