The Memphis Grizzlies have played the Golden State Warriors twice this season, so far. It just so happens that both of those games are two of the Warriors only seven losses so far this season. So why can the Grizzlies beat the Warriors more consistently than every other team? Let's get into that.
The Memphis Grizzlies have one of the least efficient offenses in the NBA. They are averaging 100.6 points/game as a team (26th of 30). They don't have any flashy scorers, or even any players averaging 25 points or more. Instead, the Grizzlies take advantage of a rare strategy that most teams don't use. The Grizzlies play every single player on their roster. Eight players on the roster play 20+ minutes/game. Fourteen of fifteen play 10+ minutes/game.
Their fifteenth player, Deyonta Davis, plays 7.4 minutes/game. This strategy is hugely important to the Grizzlies, allowing their players to be rested all game long, limiting mistakes and being able to control the flow of the game, while other teams superstars get tired quickly. This slows the Warriors down to a pace that the Grizzlies enjoy, and allow them to score at equal efficiency, if not more efficiently than the Warriors later in the game.
Now, this full rotation strategy wouldn't mean anything if Memphis couldn't play defense, and they can play defense. The team averages 99.5 opponents points/game (3rd of 30). That is 1.1 points less than their awful points per game average, which almost completely takes their scoring problems out of the equation.
Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are the Grizzlies leading scorers. Their matchups, when they play the Warriors, are Stephen Curry and either Zaza Pachulia or Javale McGee. Stephen Curry is known for being a poor defender. His defensive FG% is 43.3% overall and 70.9% from less than 6 feet. While Zaza is a little better, it's not by much, allowing 65.9% DFG inside of 6 feet and 62.9% inside of 10. The lackluster defense of these two players almost gives away the game itself. Marc, has also developed the distinct ability to make long distance shots, and has become one of the better shooting big men in the league.
The rest of the team’s scoring comes from an array of semi-efficient firepower from the reserves, including Zach Randolph, a former all-star, that still averages a good 14 points/game. JaMychal Green is the player filling Randolph’s place as starting forward, and he does a good job increasing the pace of the Grizzlies offense with his speed, and his shooting ability from long distance, a threat that starters Troy Williams and rookie, Andrew Harrison also offer.
The Grizzlies also have two of the best defenders in the NBA in Tony Allen and Marc Gasol. The positions these two players are at couldn't work any better. Tony Allen is an amazing counter to the firepower of Klay Thompson, allowing 31.9% from behind the 3pt line. In the first matchup between these teams, Klay Thompson scored only 8 points, and in the second only 17. He can't exactly size up Kevin Durant on a switch which explains Durant’s 21 points in the first game and 27 in the second, but he can at least handle the silent assassin.
Marc Gasol has something the Warriors don't have, a reliable center. He held the starting center position in both games to only 10 points combined. His ability to grab defensive rebounds limits the Warriors chance to get second chance points significantly. There is always Steph Curry to deal with, and with his ability to score from nearly anywhere, even Conley can’t handle him. That explains Curry’s 40 points in the second matchup.
It's really quite simple. Two former MVPs, the DPOY, and an SG who went for 60 points in three-quarters can't stop the Grizzlies. Ok maybe it's not that simple, but at least we know how the Grizzlies have learned to counter the Warriors, and maybe they can do it again in their next matchup this Friday.