Warriors roll over Grizzlies in Game 5 as Tony Allen's absence looms large

The grit and grind Memphis Grizzlies missed Tony Allen in a 98–78 Game 5 loss to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
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Calling Tony Allen a "shooting guard" is a semantic nightmare. It’s a title that’s technically correct, but literally absurd.

The Grizzlies starter attempted just 150 jump shots during the regular season. His second-round opponent, Stephen Curry, hoisted 1,217. Allen has put up just 336 three-pointers over his entire 11-year career, while Curry fired 646 this year alone. His 8.6 points per game were the fewest of any Grizzlies starter and his general presence on the floor serves as a nuisance to the team’s offense. Allen’s junkyard style occasionally yields a few points, mostly at the rim, but it’s more likely to induce groans, mostly from his coaches.

If you’re a starting shooting guard who turns down open jump shots like autograph requests, your defensive abilities better be off the charts. Allen’s are astronomical.

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Allen is the grit that powers the Grizzlies’ grind—the player who most embodies their blue-collar identity. His inside-your-jersey defense and in-your-face mentality gives Memphis’s defense its trademark edge. The Grizzlies went 31-10 with Allen in the starting lineup this season and just 24-17 without him. Despite his offensive shortcomings, he produced a 10.2 net rating on the year, not only higher than any other Grizzlies starter, but higher than the likes of LeBron James and Tim Duncan.

[daily_cut.NBA]He led the league in steal percentage (4.1%) and has upped his league-best mark to 4.7% during the postseason. His on/off impact on Memphis’s defense (-8.3 per 100 possessions) is more significant than any other starter, illustrating just how vital he is to its prowess. A matchup with the Grizzlies doesn’t just mean your bigs will be forced to bang with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Your best perimeter player will be cloaked by No. 9 for 94 feet and 48 minutes—if the job calls for it.

But one thing Allen is not is durable. He missed 19 games this season and has played less than 70 in seven of his 11 seasons. A sore left hamstring flared up before Game 5, forcing the Grizzlies to play a pivotal playoff game without their defensive ace.

That news likely produced ear-to-ear grins from the Splash Brothers. Entering Game 5, Curry was shooting just 23.6% from three-point range during the series. Klay Thompson, after averaging 25 points per game in the first round against the Pelicans, was scoring just 16.5. But with Allen relegated to the sidelines Wednesday night, the Warriors’ offense and backcourt duo suddenly reverted to its world-beating form.

Curry buried four three-pointers in the first quarter and six on the night,  while Thompson added a team-high 21 points, as the Warriors cruised to a 98–78 romp over the Grizzlies and a 3-2 series lead in their second-round matchup.

It was a watershed moment for the Warriors, who suffered two of their worst offensive showings of the season in Games 2 and 3, posting 90 and 89 points, respectively.  That’s a far cry from the offense that helped produce a franchise-best 67 wins during the season. In fact, Golden State had more games in which it topped 130 points (three) than finished under 90 (two).  With Allen off the floor, the Warriors’ perimeter players saw more space than they had seen in more than a week. Golden State buried 14-of-30 three-pointers (45.7%), improving to 5-0 against Memphis this year when hitting double-digit three-pointers. It also dished out 28 assists on 38 made baskets, taking advantage of the perimeter freedom it had lacked before to complete pinpoint passes.  

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Absences have already played a large role in this young postseason. Kevin Love’s injury dealt a heavy dose of adversity to the Cavaliers’ title hopes.  Bad hamstrings have not only cost the Grizzlies’ Allen playoff games, but Chris Paul and Pau Gasol as well. John Wall’s hand and wrist injuries forced him to miss multiple clashes. And the Rockets have been playing without two starters since the playoffs began.

Allen’s star might not shine as bright as the names above, but his injury was felt just as much in Game 5. The Grizzlies simply lack the depth to handle the Warriors’ onslaught without the lockdown efforts of Allen. He’s the equivalent of a shutdown corner taking away half the field in football. With Allen hounding Thompson for much of the series, Memphis’s other four players have been able to key in on Curry, leading to rare struggles for the newly-minted MVP.

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The Grizzlies didn’t have the same luxury Wednesday. With Jeff Green starting in Allen’s place, Memphis didn’t have the speed to keep up with Golden State. It didn’t help that its offense also fell flat (39.8% shooting), leading to the most lopsided outcome of the series.  Marc Gasol had 18 points, but shot just 8 of 22 from the field, while Zach Randolph and Mike Conley were limited to 13 apiece.

For Memphis to stay alive and push the series to seven, it needs Allen back on the floor getting uncomfortably close to Curry or Thompson. The ailing defender wasted no time after Wednesday’s loss declaring he’d be ready for Game 6, but even three days rest might not be enough for him to get back to 100%. Even so, a limited Allen—whether it’s offensively or physically—is still a useful guard to the Grizzlies. Allen might not have a shot, but he gives the Grizzlies one.