The road to the Western Conference Semifinals was bumpy, but the Warriors and Grizzlies managed to escape their first-round series against the Nuggets and Timberwolves, respectively, setting the stage for a No. 2 vs. No. 3 battle.
Golden State appeared to be on its way to a sweep against Denver after taking the first three games of the matchup. The Nuggets didn’t fold, though, winning Game 4 and pushing the Warriors to the limit in a competitive Game 5. Steve Kerr’s squad unsurprisingly relied on its stars in key moments, but it also received timely contributions from role players.
Memphis had to grind its way through a wild series against Minnesota that featured mind-blowing plays (good and bad), incredible comebacks and plenty of trash talk. The Grizzlies dropped Game 1 at home, but they showed their resilience and toughness by winning four of the next five contests.
Which contender will emerge victorious and reach the Western Conference Finals?
MORE: Draymond Green praises Nikola Jokic after first-round series
Key storyline: The point guard matchup between Stephen Curry and Ja Morant
So much for all of those concerns about Curry’s health.
The two-time MVP was terrific in Round 1, averaging 28.0 points, 5.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals while only playing 30.0 minutes per game. He returned to the starting lineup in the Game 5 win and was unstoppable in crunch time.
Morant wasn’t incredibly efficient in the first round, but he still nearly averaged a triple-double across six postseason games. He has matured quickly, finding a nice balance between trusting his talented teammates and stepping up when necessary.
Most notably, he answered the call in Game 5 when Taylor Jenkins told him to go get a bucket in the closing seconds.
Can the Grizzlies force Curry to commit turnovers in order to fuel their transition attack? Can the Warriors keep Morant out of the paint? How often will Curry and Morant target each other when they have the ball?
This series has plenty of intriguing angles, but there is no reason to ignore the obvious storyline sitting at the top of the list. In the NBA Playoffs, teams need their stars to shine.
Key stat: 65.8 percent
The Warriors had a defensive rebounding percentage of 65.8 in the first round, the third-lowest mark among the 16 postseason participants.
So, why does that matter? Well, the Grizzlies are a problem on the offensive glass.
During the regular season, Memphis ranked first in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage (33.8). Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke in particular are extremely active and excel in creating second-chance opportunities, though it’s unclear how much Adams will play considering Jenkins removed him from the rotation against Minnesota.
If Kerr gives the new “Death Lineup” of Curry, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green extended minutes, rebounding could become a major factor in this series.
Warriors vs. Grizzlies series schedule
|Sunday, May 1||Game 1||3:30 PM||ABC|
|Tuesday, May 3||Game 2||9:30 PM||DTT|
|Saturday, May 7||Game 3||8:30 PM||ABC|
|Monday, May 9||Game 4||10:00 PM||DTT|
|Wednesday, May 11||Game 5*||TBD||DTT|
|Friday, May 13||Game 6*||TBD||ESPN|
|Monday, May 16||Game 7*||TBD||DTT|
Warriors vs. Grizzlies expert picks and predictions
Leandro Fernandez: Warriors in six games
Jordan Greer: warriors in seven games
Scott Rafferty: Warriors in six games
Kevin Skiver: warriors in seven games
Nick Metallinos: Warriors in six games
Ananth Pandian: Grizzlies in six games