Stephen Curry and Ja Morant — two of the league’s most electric point guards — dueled in one of the Warriors’ most entertaining games of the 2021-22 season.
The Grizzlies led by as much as 18, but the Warriors stormed back in the second half with major third-quarter runs. There were seven lead changes and five ties — and many more alley-oop dunks.
Curry (27 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) recorded his second triple double of the season, but Morant led the Grizzlies to the win. Morant dropped 29 points, including a clutch teardrop over Gary Payton II and an and-1 through Andrew Wiggins with 28.9 seconds left to seal the game.
Despite Curry’s triple double, he missed seven of his nine 3-pointers — three of which were airballs. The Warriors (30-10) scored just 18 fourth-quarter points as Memphis won its franchise-record 10th straight game, 116-108.
Here are three takeaways from Golden State’s loss.
Klay more subtle, yet more effective
Before Tuesday’s game, Golden State coach said a hangover for Klay Thompson will come eventually. The adrenaline from finally returning after all this time will wear off. Everybody hits lulls.
In his first game back, it felt like the Warriors were force-feeding him at times. They were so excited to have him back, they wanted to get him his touches — even though Kerr told them pregame there’s no need to seek him out because Thompson always finds his shots. Thompson shot 18 times in 20 minutes, a fact he and Curry quipped in postgame interviews.
Tuesday in Memphis felt like more of a normal dosage of Thompson. He was aggressive, but not overly. He looked for his shots but didn’t hunt them.
In 19 minutes, Thompson scored 14 points on 5-for-13 shooting. That shot distribution is closer to what the Warriors will need to reach their peak (though Thompson himself may disagree).
Thompson drove to the rim relentlessly in the first half. He drilled two smooth step-back elbow jumpers and drew a key late charge call on Desmond Bane. He left the pomp and emotions back in the Chase Center, but still finished a team-high +17. When he’s fully built back his endurance, the Warriors are going to be even better. The hangover isn’t here yet.
Ja’s electrifying first quarter
With 2:46 left in the first quarter, Ja Morant had outscored the Warriors, 15-14.
Juan Toscano-Anderson started by picking him up full-court. Andrew Wiggins had a turn on him. Then Andre Iguodala. The Warriors tried a box-and-one at one point.
None of it worked in the first quarter. Morant hit a 3 from the wing, but did most of his damage inside. He scored in transition, off a backdoor cut in the half court, and as Memphis’ primary creator. On multiple possessions, he put Kevon Looney or Nemanja Bjelica in a pick-and-roll and dusted them on his way to the rim.
It’s telling that the Warriors didn’t try Thompson on Morant. The 22-year-old Grizzlies guard is exactly the type of player Prime Thompson used to stick on. Thompson’s ability to guard point guards and wings equally effectively was one of the qualities that separated him from other pure shooters. But Golden State avoided Thompson-Morant matchups, a possible indication GSW — or he — may not trust his defense quite yet.
Also, Golden State waiting until there were eight seconds left in the first quarter to send Gary Payton II onto the court was curious. He’d be on the top of most lists of defenders qualified to slow down electric point guards. Payton II tweaked his ankle in Sunday’s game and was originally listed as questionable for Tuesday.
But late in the second quarter when the Warriors stuck Payton II on Morant, GSW went on a 14-5 run to close the half. Then in the third, with Payton II still blanketing Morant, Golden State blitzed Memphis for a 17-3 stretch.
Even against Payton’s physical defense in the second half, Morant added to his 15-point first quarter. He finished with 29 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two blocks.
Memphis looks legit
The Grizzlies broke a three-year playoff drought last season, and returned exponentially better. Getting over that hump appears to have given the franchise confidence, and Memphis’ nucleus is only improving.
Morant has all the tools to be an elite point guard for the next decade. Jaren Jackson Jr., if he stays healthy, is what every team looks for in a modern center. Desmond Bane, overlooked in the Draft because of his age and atypical build, is a star in his role.
And Memphis has done a nice job building around that trio. Their complementary pieces are long and athletic, accentuating their core’s strengths. At 6-foot-3, Morant is the only player in MEM’s starting lineup that doesn’t scare you with either his wingspan or size (but he makes up for it with uncanny leaping ability). Rookie Ziaire Williams has potential as a rangy wing, and Brandon Clarke has shown impressive flashes since entering the league.
Memphis’ length and athleticism makes them a tough matchup for anyone. The Warriors would still be favored in a seven-game playoff series — as they would in any Western Conference playoff matchup — but Memphis presents serious challenges. At the very least, they’re very fun, and should be for a long time.