There are a lot of times, particularly in basketball, when something hyped-up doesn’t live up to the expectations. This isn’t one of those times.
Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals series between the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies delivered on everything it promised and added a couple of twists that made things even more interesting.
It was clearly a heavyweight match from the start. The last two minutes of the game saw both sides throwing haymaker after haymaker, but those haymakers have been coming and landing since the first quarter.
Every Ja Morant rim attack was countered with a well-executed Warriors set play. That’s not to say that only Morant showed up for Memphis. He got help from Jaren Jackson Jr.’s shooting hand (33 points on six 3s) and a couple of big plays from Brandon Clarke (12 points and nine rebounds).
But who are we kidding? It was the Ja Morant show. He flexed when two Warrior defenders couldn’t stop him from rolling to the rim. He danced when Desmond Bane shook Steph Curry. He gave Jonathan Kuminga a highly disrespectful “he can’t guard me,” complete with finger-pointing. He was awesome.
The Warriors brought their own version of awesome, however. Despite losing Draymond Green before halftime because of a Flagrant 2 foul on Clarke, the Warriors played with too much conviction and poise.
Despite squandering a 10-point lead in the fourth, the Warriors didn’t let Memphis—and the booming FedEx Forum—rattle them. That’s not an easy feat. Just ask the Minnesota Timberwolves.
After an ultra-rare two missed free throws from Klay Thompson, who had just hit the huge go-ahead 3 with 36 seconds left, the Grizzlies went to the most logical choice to take them home. With another perfectly executed play drawn up by Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins, Morant found himself near the rim for a layup for the win.
It was Game 5 versus the Wolves all over again, except this time he was hounded by Thompson and Gary Payton II. Morant overshot it and just like that, the Warriors were able to steal home-court advantage from the No. 2 seed Grizzlies.
The box score would say that Jordan Poole carried the scoring load for the Warriors with his 31 points, a new playoff career-high. But it was more of a balanced attack. Steph Curry added 24 points while Andrew Wiggins chipped in 17. Thompson scored 15.
For Memphis, it was Morant (34 points) and Jackson (33 points) who tag-teamed on the offensive end. Both Bane and Dillon Brooks, who were so good in the first round, didn’t shoot the ball well and combined for a horrid 6-of-23 shooting.
Game 1 could’ve gone either way, and that’s what makes this semifinal matchup the must-watch series that it is. The bad news for the Grizzlies is that the Warriors have won 12 straight series after winning the first game.
The good news is that if there’s one team that’s just dying to end that streak, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies. This series started in the best way possible. A lot more craziness in the succeeding games should be expected.