By Erik Malinowski
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors have played five playoff games thus far and won all five, but not every contest has been equally contested. Three of them -- Games 1, 2 and 4 against New Orleans -- ended in relatively comfortable fashion, but the Warriors would often have to claw back late after letting up on early-game leads. Game 3 against the Pelicans, obviously, was an entirely unique beast, unclassifiable by nearly any description. We'll just leave that one sleeping where it lies.
But Game 1 this afternoon against the Memphis Grizzlies was the Warriors' best all-around effort thus far of these playoffs. They went up 5-3 two minutes into the game and the Grizzlies would never again draw closer than six points, achieved when Stephen Curry hit back-to-back threes just before halftime. And after allowing 27 points to Memphis in the second quarter -- a very un-Warriors stretch of play for the league's best defensive team -- Golden State only allowed 34 points in the entire second half. The result was a commanding 101-86 win, Golden State's largest margin of victory of the playoffs thus far.
"Tonight was a little tricky for us just because of all the time off," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said, "but I thought all in all, the effort and the intensity was right where we needed it."
All game long, the Warriors were often where they needed to be. Draymond Green came out firing early with two quick threes in the first three minutes, and his first-half stat line (11 points, three boards, three assists) helped complement the typically dependable Curry, who led the Warriors with 12 points and five dimes through two quarters and finished with 22 and seven, respectively. Klay Thompson (18 points, six assists) hit multiple threes for the fifth time in five playoff games, and Marreese Speights kicked in 10 points and five boards to anchor the Warriors' second unit that helped keep Memphis at bay when Klay, Curry and Green needed a spell.
A quick side-note: The halftime act at Oracle Arena was a man called The Amazing Sladek. He calls himself "America's oldest daredevil" and he sent sweaty palms throughout the place by climbing up a column of eight or so chairs and balancing, feet over head, from its highest point. It was amazing theater; I'm also now convinced this is what opposing teams must feel like trying to beat the Warriors on their home court. Defeating Golden State within these confines is the sporting equivalent of taking someone off the street and forcing them to stack and climb eight chairs on top of each other. And that's why it almost never happens, but who in their right mind can actually do that without falling? The sample size is inscrutably tiny. To wit, Golden State has now won 42 of 44 home games this season. That's a .954 winning percentage.
As for Memphis, the prospect of beating the Warriors four times over the next (at most) six games is probably just as improbable as it was coming into Game 1. Again, just like New Orleans in the first round, the Grizzlies didn't play poorly so much as Golden State simply overwhelmed them, especially on defense. Zach Randolph finished the game with 20 points and nine boards, but he scored just four points in the second half. Point guard Nick Calathes, filling in for an injured Mike Conley, was held scoreless in 20 minutes of play, and the Grizz only managed 21 bench points. Help was literally nowhere to be found; Golden State simply wore Memphis down.
After the win was a wrap, Curry assessed his team's play: "I think now we've got the cobwebs out of our offensive game, [and] we should be able to build some momentum." What a terrifying prospect for Memphis. If this was the Warriors with cobwebs in their offense -- 50.6 percent shooting from the floor and 13-of-28 from downtown -- imagine what happens if (when?) they play more efficiently in Game 2.
Golden State is now 11 wins from a title, its first in 40 years. That it could do so simply by winning every remaining home game allotted them has put Warriors fans in a rapturous mood. Midway through the second quarter, as the home team pushed its lead to 16, the public address started blaring "I've Had the Time of My Life" throughout the arena. Fans were literally dancing in the aisles.
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Erik Malinowski is a freelance writer in the Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @erikmal.