The Warriors are attempting to take a leap this year, trying to go from upstart disrupters to legitimate contenders with their smooth shooting, unselfish passing and hard-nosed defense. Memphis probably won’t be playing in June, but they’re still a great team capable of beating any team on any given night thanks to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol — probably the best frontcourt duo in the NBA — who set the tone for their squad by patrolling the paint and owning the glass while they work the post against helpless defenders on the offensive end.
Memphis symbolizes everything Golden State must overcome to reach the mountain top of assuming the role as an elite team. They are the foe the Dubs must vanquish to gain entry into the private club that is the top of the NBA’s hierarchy. The proverbial dragon they must slay in the next phase of their quest for that big shiny trophy.
If there was a prototypical “toughest team”, it’d probably be the Grizzlies. Their mascot isn’t so much a noun as it is an adjective. Randolph’s ever present scowl and in-game barking are meant to intimidate the weak, to instill fear in the hearts of his opponents. He is the Grizzlies’ catalyst – their spirit animal. He would finish the night with 21 points and 12 rebounds. He is the papa bear, if you will. But he’s not the only Grizzly you wouldn’t want to come across at your camp site in the woods.
Another big part of their identity is Tony Allen, who was docked a few popularity points after introducing his leg to Chris Paul’s face. As a result, he was not playing last night. But Stephen Curry has a minor concussion after getting his dome piece hip checked into the floor in Utah on Monday and thus was also was not in uniform either. Matt Steinmetz of 95.7 The Game summed it up in one tweet, so let’s just say that both teams were operating without a key piece in a matchup that was already pretty close on paper.
But was it really so close? The Warriors had lost 10 straight games against Memphis heading into last night’s contest. The Grizzlies embody everything that gives Golden State trouble, schematically and mentally. Mark my words, ladies and gentlemen: The Warriors will never go the distance until they slay the beast that is the Memphis Grizzlies.
Sure, they had their chances last night. They took a 44-34 lead into the second half, only for those pesky Grizzlies to claw their way back and take the lead after a 25-13 third quarter. They responded in the fourth quarter, but when golden god Andre Iguodala uncharacteristically missed a shot at the buzzer for the win, the writing was on the wall, and the five minute overtime was a mere formality as Memphis roared a mighty bear yell and metaphorically marked their territory for the 11th time in a row.
And so it goes for the Golden State Warriors. Suddenly 75-7 doesn’t seem so attainable. The playoff implications are not to be overlooked here. They will not face the Grizzlies again this year unless it’s in the postseason, and now they’ll have those ferocious bear roars in the back of their heads if/when that happens. And if Hollywood movies have taught us anything, it’s that once bears get a taste for blood, they won’t stop. So you gotta grow a pair and face them in the wilderness.
That’s what being an NBA player is all about. Overcoming your fear of bears. That’s what the great teams do. I’m betting Golden State can harness that warrior spirit (no pun intended) and defeat the Grizzlies when it really counts. Between now and then, it’s all about building up the self esteem to slay the beast. It starts Friday when they take on the Los Angeles Lakers.