The Memphis Grizzlies' ability to score in transition will be the difference in their series against the Golden State Warriors.
Memphis's trademark grit and grind is evocative of difficult basketball. Everything played against the Grizzlies' style must be earned painstakingly—clawed out from under the pressure of dedicated, intrusive defenders. Even Memphis's offense is punishing. Opposing bigs are physically worn down by the churning post games of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, power posting in a volume found nowhere else in the NBA.
Of course, the Grizzlies are not immune to the difficulties inherent to the way they choose to play. A preference for slower, more deliberate basketball trades off with the kind of up-tempo offense that would allow scoring to come more easily. This is a calculated decision stemming from the talent at Memphis's disposal, though it is tested every time the Grizzlies encounter an opponent like the Warriors.
Pace is at the heart of this second-round matchup, though not always in the most intuitive ways. There's truth to the notion that Memphis would prefer to slow the game down while Golden State would run the break all night if it had its way. Yet Game 2, by far the fastest game of the series thus far, went to the Grizzlies in part because of their transition offense.
[daily_cut.NBA]There wasn't much night-to-night change in the Warriors' open-floor output, who scored 21 fast-break points during Game 1 (which was won handily) to 19 in Game 2 (which they lost, 97–90). The Grizzlies, by contrast, pumped up their transition scoring from 13 points to 21—a swing that makes a world of difference for any team that plays like Memphis does. When every half-court possession is an elective grind, any bit of downhill scoring brings needed relief.
Whenever they like, the Grizzlies can run 12 seconds of foundational offense to enter the ball into the post. Gasol (48.6% on shots from the post, per Synergy Sports) and Randolph (46%) can often use those touches to create a decent look. In doing so as a primary means of offense, however, the Grizzlies set themselves up to score some but not enough, particularly against a team that throughout the season flirted with the NBA's top ranking in offensive efficiency.
The games in which Memphis fares best are those with a healthy amount of plays like this one:
Or this one:
The former isn't easily replicable; if Tony Allen could pluck steals out of mid-air on every possession he surely would, laughing maniacally all the while. Yet the latter, while still the result of a turnover, shows the kind of play Memphis needs to court actively. The ball comes loose deep into the floor near the baseline, setting up a fast break in which every player has a chance to run the floor. The Grizzlies get the bucket solely because Beno Udrih releases to catch a perfect outlet pass and Jeff Green made the decision to trail behind him. From that alone comes instant offense, no grinding necessary.
Any attempt to out-run Golden State would be folly. Memphis still needs to execute purposefully through the post, lest the talents of Gasol and Randolph be marginalized at the worst possible time. But the potential to sprint out for breezy looks rather than back down against the top defense in the league may offer the means to its survival. Whether the Grizzlies win the straw total of fast-break points doesn't much matter. What does is Memphis's capacity to turn up 8–10 points it might not be able to elsewhere. On a given night, that could be the distinction between the Grizzlies' offense stalling out or sustaining.
Memphis will not be holding Golden State to a point total in the 80s as it did Portland in the first round. The onlaught is coming, sometimes through three-point barrages and others by incisive passing through the court's interior. Good, engaged defense will not be enough. The Grizzlies' only means of survival is to continue to draw points from opportunism.
We've seen over the course of the lopsided season series how this matchup shakes out with both teams entrenched in their chosen styles. Where it could deviate is in Memphis's attention to situational advantage. There are ways to balance the Grizzlies' plodding identity with a shrewd transition game. From that equilibrium comes the means to make the Warriors' lives difficult and the Grizzlies' own a bit less so.