The end of the road turned out to be San Francisco for the Memphis Grizzlies, whose upstart quest for an NBA championship stalled with a 110-96 semi-final loss in Game 6 to Golden State on Saturday night.
For 41 minutes the Grizzlies were in a back-and-forth dogfight with the Warriors, whose championship mettle propelled them to victory late in the fourth quarter. Leading 89-87 with 6:55 left in the game, a sinkhole opened on the Grizzlies’ road to victory. Golden State reeled in the win with an 18-3 run down the stretch and derailed Memphis’ all-out effort to force a Game 7.
Don’t count Dillon Brooks, Memphis’ starting small forward, among the many pointing to Golden State’s experience as the difference in the outcome.
“Naw, it was the offensive rebounds and the extra shots for them,” said Brooks (30 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, 1 turnover). “It was our turnovers and letting them get easy fastbreak points.
“We won two games. The series could have gone either way. … It is the attention to the details that we had. We did it in Game 5, but wasn’t able to do it in Game 6.”
Brooks was “100 percent” certain that the Grizzlies earned the respect of the Warriors, whose Western Conference Finals opponent will be determined in a Game 7 matchup between the Phoenix Suns and the Dallas Mavericks.
“They know we are going to come every single year. We are young and they are getting older,” said Brooks. “I play for the respect, for my peers to respect me. It is learning, playing against two of the best shooters (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) in history. It is great for us. We are going to take it this summer and do it again.”
Asked about the Grizzlies, Curry (29 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 3 turnovers), said, “I have a lot of respect for every single guy in the group. How they are built as a group and individual talent. They have a lot of energy. They have a lot of potential. They were the higher seed for a reason.
“They had a great regular season and dominated over the course of the 82 games,” he said. “There is respect and an understanding that they made us better. We made them better. Who knows what will happen down the road. They will be here for a long time. They have a lot going for them.”
Golden State power forward Draymond Green (14 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 turnovers) said, “The only thing I can do is give my respect to the (Grizzlies). They earned that. There was a lot of talking this series, the fouls, this and that. This should be reviewed and that should be reviewed. It was starting to take away from what was a great series with two amazing teams.
“That is a group of young guys that are hungry, talented, and aggressive. It will be good to see their progression and where they can take it. They can be special.”
Thompson, who had been held in check during the series, connected on 5 from deep in the first half and finished the game with a series-high 30 points (8 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, 3 turnovers). Andrew Wiggins came alive in the second half. He finished with 18 points (mostly of the second-chance variety), 11 rebounds, 1 steal, 3 blocks, and 2 turnovers).
Accounting for Golden State’s big-name stars, one of the biggest factors was Kevon Looney. Inserted at the center to counter Memphis’ size down low, Looney, who only had four points, grabbed a deflating 22 rebounds, 11 on the offensive glass.
He was the key force in the Warrior’s 70 rebounds as the Warriors outrebounded the Grizzlies by 26 boards. They had 8 offensive rebounds in the last 7 minutes of the game.
“Great adjustment on their part (with) 25 offensive rebounds, 21 second-chance points, 25 fastbreak points,” Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins said. “That is a recipe for not being successful.
“We still had a chance. That is the effort and competitiveness that our guys continue to play with. Looney stepped in and limited us on the offensive boards. His physicality was really good. … It is tough learning, but give credit. We will get better from this.”
The Grizzlies trailed at the half 53-51. They took the lead in the third quarter and only trailed by one point (78-77) when the quarter ended.
Memphis missed a slew of shots at the rim and only got 18 points from its bench. Both elements contributed to the Grizzlies not getting more out of the Warriors’ 19 turnovers. Memphis only managed 18 points off of Golden State’s miscues.
While exit interviews with the players are next week, Saturday night’s post-game media interviews provided a glimpse of some early reflections.
“A lot to reflect on for the season. A lot to be proud of. Tough to end it for sure,” said Memphis power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (14 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks). “It is the most fun I have had playing basketball. It is the greatest group of guys I have played with. If you look from the outside you can tell.”
Asked what he said to fellow Michigan State alum Green after the final buzzer, Jackson said, “…I have known him for years. I just told him congrats. Every game was tough. They played better today.”
Hampered by injuries in past seasons, Jackson stayed healthy during the just-concluded campaign.
“I was happy being out there. Being out wasn’t fun,” he said, noting the satisfaction of “being able to play an entire season and be a part of the playoff run. Going into the summer being completely healthy, is all I can ask for. You build on every year. I want to continue to build on and become more polished.”
Desmond Bane, who played more minutes (44) than any player on either team in Game 6, had 25 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 0 turnovers. He likened his takeaways after the series as similar to those at the end of last season.
“I think it is a feeling similar to last year. Last year we felt we had a good year, went into the playoffs and (came) back this year to build off of that. I think we did a good job of that. It is the same mentality. We will celebrate for a week or so and (go) back to the drawing board and build off what we did. …
“Going into the off-season the goal is always to improve; come back next year and add something to my game and hopefully go on a deeper run.”
Tyus Jones, who had a rough shooting night (going 2 of 14 for 7 points) as the starting point guard, managed 8 assists, along with 2 steals and 2 turnovers.
“It has been a fun season. It is something you have to cherish. This is not normal,” said Jones. “This is easiest the closest team I have been a part of. It is a special group. It is something you can’t take for granted.”
Jenkins said he told the team – players, coaches and staff – just how proud he was of them.
“This obviously stings … such a special season with a special group and I want them to cherish that. I want them to remember that despite this loss and the end of our season right now how this is gonna motivate us moving forward. The growth individually, the growth collectively from this season, it’s only gonna make us better. This is a step in the direction of this bright future that we talk about all the time.”
Noting the lessons learned during the playoff run, Jenkins said, “When your season ends early like this you wanna go deeper. It’s gonna reveal things that you gotta get better at. What are we gonna do individually? What am I gonna do as a coach?”
The next couple of months, he said, will include cherishing the special things accomplished with an eye toward “…how do we have to get better, what more do we have to do individually and as an entire team to take that next step.”