The Golden State Warriors are undefeated, but they will retain the role of hunter Thursday night when they seek to avenge a season-ending loss to the visiting Memphis Grizzlies.
The eighth-seeded Warriors and ninth-seeded Grizzlies put on an entertaining show in the inaugural NBA play-in tournament grand finale in May, with Memphis getting two late hoops from Ja Morant to pull out a 117-112 overtime victory.
The win sent Memphis on to face the West’s top-seeded team, the Utah Jazz, in the first round of the playoffs, with the Grizzlies falling 4-1.
Golden State, meanwhile, started planning ahead for 2021-22, a season in which it already is off to a historic start. Not only are the Warriors 4-0, but each win has come despite a halftime deficit, a season-opening feat accomplished just once previously in NBA history, that by the Los Angeles Clippers in 1985-86.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr has no hard feelings about the way his team’s season ended almost six months ago.
“Obviously a crushing way to go out. Two straight games that were basically gut punches,” he said of losing to the Los Angeles Lakers before meeting up with the Grizzlies. “(The finale) felt like a Finals game. It was so much fun. That’s what this is all about: Competition at the highest level.”
It would have been more fun had Draymond Green hit an 11-foot floater at the end of regulation. The shot missed, setting the stage for an additional five minutes and the two difference-making baskets by Morant that capped a 35-point night.
The win for the Grizzlies came five days after they had lost on the same floor 113-101 with the eighth seed at stake in the play-in tournament. Stephen Curry bombed in 46 points in that one.
Hounded by Dillon Brooks, Curry was “held” to 39 in the rematch while committing seven of Golden State’s 21 turnovers.
Curry won’t see Brooks in this rematch after the defensive ace sustained a broken left hand at practice last month. The Grizzlies hope to get him back early next month.
In the meantime, Memphis has slipped near the bottom of the NBA’s defensive rankings. The Grizzlies were scorched for 121, 114 and 121 points in their first three games. Then Wednesday, the host Portland Trail Blazers rallied from a six-point halftime deficit with a 65-point, second-half explosion to emerge with a 116-96 win.
On the front end of a back-to-back set — the second on Memphis’ four-game Western swing — Morant helped give the Grizzlies their early upper hand. He finished with 17 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, and he also committed nine turnovers.
The effort came in the wake of a missed free throw late in a Sunday defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers when the Grizzlies had a chance to tie, a miscue for which he was quickly forgiven.
“That’s our leader. That’s our guy. We’re going to war with him,” Grizzlies swingman Desmond Bane said. “We have his back through everything.”
In a matchup of Morant and Curry, the Warriors’ biggest advantage could be their depth. Golden State’s reserves have outscored the opposition 153-121 this season, whereas Memphis’ backups have been outscored 158-116.