How the Warriors outsmarted and upset the Grizzlies on Christmas Day

SAN FRANCISCO — Perhaps the biggest play in the Warriors’ 123-109 shorthanded Christmas win over the Grizzlies came with half the crowd still returning from the contest. It was the first possession of the second half. Jaren Jackson Jr. guarded Draymond Green, giving Green the go-ahead to go foul hunting.

The Warriors controlled the first half, leading by up to 16 points. But a 6-0 run from Tyus Jones in the final 27 seconds cut Memphis’ deficit to five. The Grizzlies had momentum coming out of the locker room, but they also had an elite rim-protecting center who failed to stay down in the first half due to three quick fouls. To block the Warriors, they needed Jackson to protect against a fourth whistle.

No one knew that better than Green, a hoop genius who especially locks himself in during big fights. He knew Jackson’s foul total, his importance to the Grizzlies and his infuriating tendency to reach out in times when he shouldn’t. So, eight seconds into the half, Green came for a walk for a typical dribble handoff with Donte DiVincenzo, saw Jackson’s long arm reach for nearby airspace, and gave himself a quick signal. sound in a fake DHO dive, flailing in Jackson’s arm.

Whistle. Green got what he was looking for and immediately raised four fingers to the Memphis bench, alerting the Grizzlies that it was already time to take Jackson out of the game. Here is the clip.

The NBA scheduled this game as one of its flagship Christmas games in part because of the mutual contempt that neither side can hide. It’s a healthy interplay between a rising, confident young competitor obsessed with knocking the established champion off the block.

Memphis’ core is younger, longer and more bouncy and had games when they physically overwhelmed the older, slower Warriors. But just like all of that six-game second-round winning streak seven months ago, the Warriors seem to be outlasting the Grizzlies with their brains, beating them in the marginal way that has always made champions champions. Green’s baiting of a Jackson foul is a small example in a game full of them.

“They’re talented,” Klay Thompson said. “We are talented. We are seasoned.

It turned out to be a terrible time for the Warriors to have a motivated Grizzlies squad finally healthy after the recent return of Desmond Bane. Steph Curry will miss at least a few more weeks and Andrew Wiggins played his 10th consecutive game, nursing a groin injury that coach Steve Kerr said lingered longer than expected.

But – easier to say in retrospect – this might actually turn out to be the perfect time for the Warriors to have lured the Grizzlies. They went home faltering after a 1-5 trip that took them 15-18 on the season, and they needed a locked-down performance to start a crucial eight-game homestand as they tried to walk on the water long enough for Curry’s return.

Green, listed as questionable with sore feet, looked good physically and put his typical focus on a big stage. Leading much of the action, he had 13 rebounds, 13 assists and his typical technique. Thompson didn’t shoot well, but he was physically defensive and spent the night yapping against the Grizzlies, punctuated by the memorable taunt of a stumbling Dillon Brooks after Thompson buried a jumper to seal the victory.

“Just good old fashioned trash talk,” Thompson said. “I didn’t think that warranted a technique, but I forgot the taunt rule.”

Jordan Poole played the most important role of the evening. To beat Memphis’ defensive length and activity, you need a shot creator and maker. Without Curry and Wiggins, the Warriors essentially find themselves with Poole, who was coming off a rocky end to the recent road trip.

Poole scored 17 points in the first quarter, battling Brooks’ physicality, length and Jackson’s backdoor behind the Grizzlies’ overplay scheme to score on a variety of stepback 3s, midrangers and floaters. He had 32 points in 29 minutes at the start of the fourth quarter. But that’s also when he looked down on official Marc Davis after a no-call and was hit with a second technical, resulting in an automatic ejection. It was Poole’s eighth technique of the season.

“He knows he can’t get a second one,” Kerr said. “He’s still a young player. Jordan was fantastic tonight. We needed his attacking firepower. The great thing with Jordan is I still think he has a level or two to go to really hit the mark. point where he reaches his ceiling. That involved playing with confidence, whether it’s avoiding the referees or taking care of the ball. But he does a great job in competition and helps us stay afloat.

Bane hit the free throw after Poole was ejected, cutting the Warriors’ lead to 16 with 9:20 to go. Without context, that margin seems comfortable, but it felt vulnerable without Curry, Wiggins and Poole given the lack of bench punch the Warriors have shown for most of the season.

But that’s what was different and encouraging about this game for them. The focused veterans led, but the young group behind them followed. Kerr went into a lineup that included Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and James Wiseman late in the first quarter and, over a span of five minutes, the Warriors actually extended the lead by two points against one of the teams. deeper in the league.

Kerr thrust them back into the rotation again in the second half, and all three lottery picks provided productive minutes. Moody scored 10 points and hit a big fourth quarter 3 possession after Poole was ejected. He was a plus-2. Kuminga worked his way up to eight free throws. He was a plus-21. Wiseman didn’t even attempt a shot in his eight minutes, but he probably delivered the best defensive stretch of his early career.

After Wiseman’s run in the first half, Kerr came forward and even told him his only negative: “The fault was bulls….”

“He was great defensively,” Kerr said of Wiseman. “Great. Patrolling the paint. Staying between the ball and the basket while being able to cover the roll man.

Kerr, in a lengthy interview in New York last week, went into more detail about the development of Wiseman (and Kuminga and Moody’s). You can read it here.

But these are the types of enhanced possessions Kerr is referring to. In a 10-second clip, he bottles up several pick-and-roll actions and comes from the weak side to contest a shot.

Or how about that for an encouraging streak for the Warriors front office and coaching staff? Kuminga opens on Ja Morant. The Grizzlies protect him so that Morant attacks Wiseman. Kuminga recognizes this and gets back into the game in time to stop Morant’s base driving. Wiseman recognizes and drops back into position to still protect the rim. Morant dribbles a pass out of bounds.

Donte DiVincenzo hit two huge 3s in the first quarter, had five in total and scored 19 points, continuing his emergence. Anthony Lamb had three 3s in the first half. Ty Jerome had what Kerr called the biggest streak of the night, landing three straight jumps in 65 seconds to give the Warriors the separation they needed. They are getting useful production from their two bilateral contract players.

It all came together for a second win in their last two home games. The Warriors are 16-18, but they beat the Celtics pretty convincingly without Wiggins and just beat the Grizzlies without Curry and Wiggins, taunting them all the way. They were their two biggest playoff threats a season ago. Neither rival, in advantageous scenarios, has yet to solve them.

“I just challenged the guys to lean on it,” Kerr said. “We have seven consecutive home games to come. We’ve been great at home, but we haven’t really built up much momentum this year. It’s sort of stops and starts. So it looks like it’s time to mount it.

(Photo of Draymond Green driving against Jaren Jackson Jr.: Darren Yamashita/USA Today)

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