After Golden State smashed Memphis in front of a raucous Oracle Arena crowd on Sunday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, most fans chose to ignore the fact that Memphis point guard Mike Conley (probably the squad's most irreplaceable player) was on the bench chilling. The point guard in basketball usually dictates the personality and identity of a squad and without Conley, Memphis looked like a kid without a prom date.
Conley was forced to leave Game 3 of Memphis' opening round contest against the Trail Blazers after taking a blow to the head. He was seen leaving the arena with a swollen eye and was diagnosed with a facial fracture which forced him to miss Game 1 of the Warriors series on Sunday. It was questionable if he would play on Tuesday night.
However, when duty calls, real players do real things. After witnessing the 101-86 shellacking his team suffered in Game 1, Conley, who told reporters that his sprained right foot is also still bothering him, wore a clear protective mask and played through the pain in a pivotal Game 2 victory (97-90) that ended the Warriors’ 21-game home unbeaten streak, evened the series at 1-1 and proved that Conley is one of the true Warriors of the NBA. Grit like his doesn't captivate like the pretty play of the Splash Brothers, but it's what drives and characterizes NBA Playoff basketball.
Conley was playing in his first game since undergoing surgery on April 27. Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger compared his point guard’s throbbing head to a “thermometer heated almost to the point of exploding.” The loud blaring music, flashing lights and boisterous Oracle crowd didn't help the situation.
Entering Game 2, Conley's Grizzlies teammates understood if he couldn't suit up.
“I didn’t want to be the one to pressure him to come back,” said swingman Tony Allen, the Grizzlies’ defensive stopper and Conley's homie. “But man, was I hoping. No, make that praying.”
Despite the overwhelming pain and everybody's blind love for the jump-shooting Warriors (Memphis was a 10-point underdog at Golden State according to VegasInsider.com) Conley showed up. And he showed out.
The PG was 8 of 12 from the field, including 3 of 6 from downtown, and 3 of 4 in free throws. He chipped in three assists while logging 27 minutes. Conley's 22 points was his highest scoring outburst in a playoff game since scoring 24 in Game 4 of the 2013 Western Conference Semifinals.
Last night, his veteran presence alone and the magnitude of the moment would probably have inspired his teammates. The fact that he was the best guard on the floor and outplayed the freshly-anointed League MVP was icing on a Tennessee pride cake and an emphatic statement about the future of this series.
Most importantly, Conley brought everybody who thought that Golden State was going to make quick work of The Bash Brothers & Co., back down to earth. The Warriors will be lucky to come out of this series alive and as long as Conley is running the point as he has for the past eight seasons, the heartbeat of the Grizzlies remains the same regardless of the opponent.
Remember what I told you about jump shooting squads making championship runs? Over a seven game series the jump shot will abandon you several times, regardless of what kind of shooter you are.
Last night was one of those nights and Vegas can predict the odds, but it can't predict when The Splash Brothers are going to funk into a shooting spell drier than 80-year-old cooch.
The Warriors had 20 turnovers and shot just 41.9 percent, including 23.1 percent from 3-point range. The Grizzlies had 13 steals.
Curry missed nine of his 11 three-point attempts and shot 7-of-19 overall, finishing with 19 points.
Klay Thompson had his hands full with Allen and shot a dismal 1-of-6 on threes, scoring 13 points and committing five turnovers. “It was weird,” Curry said. “That’s the best way I can put it. You want to stay in the moment but obviously the extracurricular stuff changes your routine, and it’s different. I don’t know if that was the reason for the way things went tonight, but it’s been a long 48 hours with a lot of words, a lot of pictures.”
So according to Steph, winning the MVP Award kind of threw Golden State out of whack.
“I thought we lost our poise tonight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “That was the biggest issue. We were in such a rush. We were too emotional. Instead of just moving the ball and setting good screens, everyone was trying to do everything frantically on their own.”
Then that's the fault of NBA Coach of The Year Kerr and his team leaders. This is NBA playoff time baby. No excuses to slip, trip or get caught up in the glitz. Any true champion knows this.
Memphis certainly does, having been deep in the playoff mix for some years now.
Golden State had a chance to dagger Memphis by holding it down at home. With arch-nemesis San Antonio out of the mix and Conley back in effect, Memphis will be brimming with confidence as the series moves for Games 3 and 4 to their arena, the FedEx Forum, which is known as the Grind House.
Remember how poorly the Warriors shot last night. They were 6-of-26 from three-point range.
Let's watch how they respond. During the playoffs, each possession grows in importance. A team can run and gun itself out of a game with the quickness. Especially against a defensive-minded squad such as the Grizzlies, who clamp down on each possession particularly down the stretch. This could become a recurring theme for Golden State, as it attempts to Splash and Dash to an NBA championship.