It’s officially time for a 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament rematch in the form of a full playoff series between the Warriors and Grizzlies. They played four regular-season games against one another and it resulted in the Grizzlies winning three of the four. Still, the Warriors dealt with a lot of injury concerns to their best players at so many stages of the regular season. Going through the major comparable factors, let’s take a look at who has the edge in this highly anticipated series.
Star power- Warriors
-With all due respect to Ja Morant, this category goes clearly in the favor of the Golden State Warriors. Even with some down shooting numbers, Steph Curry remains one of the best players in basketball and a better player than Morant. Then factoring in Draymond Green’s star-level defense and the Warriors have a lethal top two that’s tough for anyone to stop.
Role players- Warriors
-It can be tough to draw the line between who’s a role player and who’s a “star” but the Warriors have more guys who are firmly in between. Wiggins, Thompson, and Poole are all stars in their roles and playing great basketball in the here and now. Memphis has quality role players in Brooks, Bane, Clarke, etc. but most of them can’t go off for 25-35 points in a game like some of the Warriors role players can.
-Depth is a close call but I prefer the Grizzlies side because of the number of guys that impact the game on both ends. Memphis can legitimately throw out up to 11 quality basketball players and get contributions that could swing a game from each one of them. Golden State has excellent depth as well but I count just nine maybe ten solid rotational pieces so the edge goes slightly to Memphis.
-It just so happens that size is one of the Grizzlies’ biggest strengths while it’s one of the Warrior’s biggest weaknesses. Memphis has so many capable big men with unique play styles such as Adams, Jackson Jr, Clarke, and Tillman. On the other side, the Warriors specialize in their smaller lineups with Green’s defense masking their lack of size. However, they still don’t have very many good bigs outside of Looney who plays well within a limited role.
-This is an advantage the Warriors have over pretty much everyone in the playoffs. They shoot the three-ball at a 36.7 percent clip which ranks fifth in the NBA. Compare this to the Grizzlies who rank 16th at 35.3 percent from three. Golden State has six rotational players who shoot it 36 percent or better from long range while the Grizzlies have only three. Golden State also has two of the greatest shooters ever in Curry and Thompson, plus Poole who shot 48 percent from three in round one.
-Both teams have excellent play finishers around the basket. Memphis has one of the best finishing guards in league history already in Morant. However, the Warriors have more quality around the rim finishers. Golden State has eight rotational players who shoot 65 percent or better at the rim while Memphis has just five. That’s not including Curry who’s a great rim finisher but just had a down year in that respect as he shot 60 percent at the rim.
Interior defense- Grizzlies
-If Draymond Green’s only specialty was rim protection then I’d consider the Warrior’s case but the Grizzlies have some special weak side shot blocker. This is Jaren Jackson Jr’s specialty as he led the NBA at 2.7 blocks per game. Brandon Clarke and even Steven Adams can rotate over and protect the rim as well for additional support at the basket. This gives Memphis more than one formidable front-court defensive weapon.
Perimeter defense- Warriors
-Golden State has a very underrated perimeter defense. It starts once again with Draymond Green who’s the best defender in the game due to his ability to defend off screens, isolations, and everywhere on the court. Gary Payton II takes after his father as a pesky point of attack defender. Plus, Wiggins and Thompson are rock solid on-ball defenders who guard wings very well.
-Steve Kerr has far more postseason experience but I think Taylor Jenkins is a better coach right now. Jenkins is tactical and always puts his players in the best positions to succeed. Kerr has times where he overthinks the room and this leads to poor game management situations and bad rotations. Even with less experience, Jenkins can outcoach Kerr in this series.
-Similar to the Bucks-Celtics series this is close for the same reasons. The Grizzlies have developed impeccable culture and it’s clear this team has a strong bond. However, the Warriors have that extra championship pedigree with three rings between their core of Curry, Thompson, and Green. Even with new players since the last time they won the title in 2018, you have to trust the Warriors veterans to guide the way for the young players in postseason basketball.
Series prediction: Warriors over the Grizzlies in six games