OAKLAND, Calif. — Down and out just days earlier, the Golden State Warriors suddenly look alive and well again.
Stephen Curry turned in an MVP-worthy performance, Klay Thompson snapped out of his shooting funk and the Warriors rolled past the Memphis Grizzlies 98-78 on May 13 to take a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series.
“It’s like wine,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said about learning how to stop Memphis. “It gets better with time.”
The Warriors turned up the league’s top-rated defense and finally found their rhythm from long range.
Curry scored 18 points on six 3-pointers and added a career-playoff high six steals to go with seven rebounds and five assists. Thompson scored 21 points, and Harrison Barnes had 14 as the Warriors won their second straight game in impressive fashion.
Golden State can close out the Grizzlies in Game 6 on Friday night in Memphis.
“I think I said the first couple games, ‘Our defense was good enough, but it wasn’t championship defense,’” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I was wrong. This is what it’s going to take.”
With defensive stopper Tony Allen sidelined with a left hamstring injury, the Grizzlies struggled to contain Golden State’s streaky shooters. The Warriors made 14-of-30 shots from 3-point range, while Memphis made just four of 15 from long distance.
Marc Gasol had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Zach Randolph had 13 points and 10 boards for a Grizzlies team suddenly on the brink of elimination. It was Memphis’ lowest point total in these playoffs.
“Everybody’s saying we couldn’t score because Tony Allen’s on the floor. We put up 78 without him,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said.
Since going down 2-1 in the series, the top-seeded Warriors have rediscovered their regular-season form — swarming defense, pace-and-space offense and lots of long-range swishes.
And for the second time in three nights, Memphis had no answer for them.
“They’re moving the ball. They’re getting a lot more penetration. Everybody,” said Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, who scored 13 points wearing a mask over his still-healing face. “When you do that, it’s always tough to stop.”
The Grizzlies had hoped to find an offensive rhythm to match Golden State’s scoring punch. Instead, Jeff Green and veteran Vince Carter struggled to supply the same energy and intensity on defense as Allen, who wore a suit on the bench and often waved instructions to his teammates.
Curry carried the Warriors back from an early 13-point deficit, connecting on four 3-pointers to give Golden State a 26-25 lead at the end of the first quarter.
He motioned his hands wildly to the roaring, golden-yellow-shirt-wearing sellout crowd following the fourth make just before the buzzer, showing as much emotion as he ever has at home.
“You feel the energy of the crowd,” Curry said. “It was a cool moment.”
Added Kerr: “It was a miracle we had the lead after the first quarter.” The Warriors never gave it back, either.
Barnes helped build the momentum with several big plays in the second quarter, and Curry came back with another from long distance to put Golden State up 49-41 at the half.
The Warriors wore down the short-handed Grizzlies following the break with a fast-pace tempo that never relented.
They led 74-57 through three quarters and went ahead by 24 points early in the fourth on Thompson’s four-point play, turning the game into the type of home wipe-out that became routine in the regular season, when they rolled to a franchise-record 67 wins.
“That’s our brand of basketball,” Green said. “We got a couple of stops and all of a sudden the game started changing. It’s tough for anybody to keep up with us in transition, but that has to start on the defensive end.”
(ANTONIO GONZALEZ, AP Basketball Writer)