Over the course of six games, the Grizzlies learned beyond a doubt that the Warriors are the most disheartening draw in the league. Memphis had great possessions, fine stretches, and two winning quarters in Friday’s elimination game. None of it was enough against an opponent that is always within minutes of erasing a deficit or from pushing its own lead squarely out of reach. Golden State finished with a 108–95 victory, though the writing had been on the wall of this series far days.
Consider all that the Grizzlies had to endure. While Memphis would work through full, 24-second possessions to find a well-contested post-up, Golden State ran for easy offense and barraged from the three-point line. Overall, the Warriors made 68 three-pointers in the series to the Grizzlies' 25. That alone is a towering advantage to overcome—an uphill numbers game of trading in shots worth lesser value.
Leads that would take Memphis the better part of a quarter to build could be undone with a few minutes of hot shooting. Or, in the case of Game 6: The all-out Grizzlies effort to pull within one late in the third quarter was brushed off with relative ease. Three minutes later, the Warriors again lead by 10, and just two minutes into the fourth quarter they would build that lead to 15. Golden State keeps scoring. That makes every one of its opponent's empty possessions all the more devastating, particularly those turnovers or long rebounds that allow the Warriors to run out to advantage.
[daily_cut.NBA]There's something to the way that Stephen Curry heats up, too, that is particularly unsettling to the execution of Warriors opponents. His release is so quick it can deflate the energy of a defense in rotation. His shot is so accurate it can distort the internal logic of a defensive system. His bursts of scoring—like the 11 points he put up in three minutes to end the Grizzlies' season–shake opponents with every successive basket. Curry isn't unguardable. But defending him requires high effort and huge concessions on every possession, and even then he still has the ability to heat up and render it all moot.
To make matters worse, Golden State is among the best in the league in terms of its collective ability to make the extra pass. Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, and Harrison Barnes all play in a way that takes advantage of opportunity without ruling out the possibility of finding something better. Barnes might look to the rim for a potential three-pointer only to pass to Thompson, who would line up his own shot only to then pull in the defender and dish off to an open Curry in the corner. In watching Golden State, one can track a possession's course and find where some other team executing might settle. On the Warriors go, turning a pick-and-roll into a pick-and-roll-and-cut, the two-man game into three or four or five.
This isn't just a difference in approach. Golden State built its roster around Curry and Thompson but shaped its strategy around the passing of its bigs. Green and Bogut play integral roles in most every half-court possession. Their hand-offs force a defense to quickly change direction. Their rolls to the rim are open-ended—pointed toward the hoop, sure, but free to meander as Green puts the ball on the floor or Bogut threads a pass to an open man. On paper, the Warriors run some of the best stuff in the league. Replace their X's and O's with unselfish, multi-talented parts and their system springs to life from Steve Kerr's clipboard.
Built into all of this is the toll of running with Golden State, a cost entirely different than that of wrestling with Memphis. Power players like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph can wear down opponents in their own way. Contending with the Warriors, though, requires guards who can lock and trail Curry and Thompson along with bigs who understand explicitly when they can offer help. The line is often so fine as to be indistinguishable; when Curry sprints around a screen into a swath of open court, the teammate who helps risks being exploited with the pass and he who doesn't could be a mere witness to the latest of the MVP's three-pointers.
Physically, the work that goes into keeping up with Curry and Thompson is exhausting as is grinding out points against the Warriors' outstanding defense. Mentally, those shooters move so much without the ball that they put the defense into a constant string of difficult decisions. Golden State is an opponent that one can only beat by thinking through. A defender mulling options in his own head, though, is liable to be paralyzed by a split-second's indecision. With enough offensive churn, the revolving string of cuts, screens, and passes wears on a defense. The Warriors grind in their own way.
They force their opponents to track their offensive choreography, then wall and scramble on the other side of the ball to make points a precious resource. They run small to bait opponents into overextending perceived mismatches only to snare them with multiple, collapsing defenders. They switch when needed as a means to throw an opponent out of rhythm and sustain defensive energy. It never stops. Teams like the Grizzlies, talented and imposing in their own right, are victims only to the fact that they have more reasonable limits.
Ousting the Warriors will a require that an opponent contain and survive in every one of these overlapping dimensions four times in seven games. That ultimately wasn't feasible for Memphis in its current state and may not be for any of the postseason's surviving teams, either.