SAN FRANCISCO — Steph Curry had the last laugh in the game itself, so it only made sense that he would have the last laugh long after it was over.
As midnight approached inside the Chase Center, where Curry and his aging Golden State Warriors had somehow survived against that upstart Memphis Grizzlies team in their 110-96 victory in Game 6 of the Conference Semifinals West, the 34-year-old had one last long-range burial attempt before he called it a Friday night. For three quarters, he had struggled to solve the Grizzlies defense that didn’t let him look like his all-time great self.
Dillon Brooks was the first wave, but help always came: Jaren Jackson Jr. Steven Adams. All those other relentless wings. But then an 11-point fourth quarter for Curry helped save this Warriors team that looked overmatched for much of this series.
During our brief conversation on his way to the exits, I relayed the fact that Brooks did some kind of Father Time flex on his way out.
“They know we’re going to come every year,” said Brooks, 26, after scoring 30 points and working Curry for all of his 29 (on 10 of 27 overall and 6 of 2). 17 3-point shots). “We are young and they are getting old. So they know we come every year.
Curry, true to form, was ready with a counter.
“He said a lot of crazy things,” Curry said. Athleticism with a smile while watching the nearby cameras on NBA TV. “It was already called a dynasty, so you have to understand. In the next round. Western Conference Finals, we’re back. Let’s go!”
In the era of the Warriors’ renaissance, where they’re trying to expand a veritable dynasty — they’ve won three titles in all and gone to five consecutive NBA Finals to earn this description — the Grizzlies have quickly become what comes closest to the more than one rival. The Play-In game in 2021 was the genesis of it all, with Memphis bouncing back Golden State in a way that has become a point of pride for all of the Grizzlies.
But even before that there was the Andre Iguodala saga which set the stage for this game which is equal parts mutual respect and rhetoric. The Warriors veteran, of course, made the controversial trade decision not to join Memphis after being traded to the Grizzlies in July 2019.
The younger Grizzlies took offense, with Brooks saying Iguodala missed “that dynasty”. With the age of warriors, it seems, comes the memory of an elephant.
In truth, the beauty of this matchup is that there is an iron-sharpened-iron element that both sides were willing to acknowledge. To hell with bad blood.
Even with the Gary Payton II injury that inspired Warriors coach Steve Kerr to say Brooks “broke the code,” or Ja Morant’s knee injury in Game 3 that the Grizzlies blamed on Jordan Poole before turning back a few days later, reverence reigned on both sides. Draymond Green even admitted afterwards that he had originally planned to drag the Grizzlies during his closing game press conference, spending “several days” concocting references to “Grit and Grind” and “Whoop That Trick in his mind that would have been good for a few Warriors chuckles. In the end, however, he couldn’t help but praise this band for not going anywhere anytime soon.
“The only thing I can do is give this team my respect; they earned it,” Green said. “You know, there’s been a lot of talk in this series of fouls and this and that, and it should be reviewed and it should be reviewed. I think that really started to take away from what was a really good streak with two amazing teams.
“It’s a group of young guys who – obviously you get to the business side of things, and you have to keep that together – but it’s a group of hungry young guys. They’re talented. They’re athletic. They’re athletic. have had it. You know, it’ll be good to see their progression over the next few years and where they can take it, because it’s an amazing young team. You know, they can be special. They can be really specials.
The Warriors know they escaped here, that they struggled with the dynamic version of the Grizzlies that included Morant and one who is even better without him defensively. Acrimonious history aside, Curry was no different from Green when it came to how he sees this group from Memphis that has such a bright future.
“I have a lot of respect for every guy on the team in terms of how they’re built as a group, the individual talent,” Curry said during his post-game session. “They have a lot of energy, a lot of potential to win at the highest level.
“They were the top seed for a reason. They had an amazing regular season and dominated all of those 82 games. For us to be able to walk off the show with a W, like, there’s definitely respect. There is definitely an understanding that they made us better. I’m sure we’ve improved them. And who knows what will happen later, but they will be here for a long time simply because they have so much to offer. So definitely respect.
Midway through Curry’s press conference, Morant shared that same sentiment via his Twitter account.
favorite game. 💪🏽 looking forward to more 30 battles.. https://t.co/qsBkINpjBD
—Ja Morant (@Ja Morant) May 14, 2022
“That’s a problem,” Curry said of Morant when told about the tweet. “I mean, his numbers are crazy. We were up 2-1 (in the series), so (they) still had faith that we could finish the series. But it requires your full attention. … Sky is the limit.
“Like I said, they’re going to be there for a long time, you know, fighting for Western Conference prowess. … We’ll appreciate that and keep pushing towards our goal, but you have to understand they’re going to to be in it for the long haul, and that’s a problem. So definitely an amazing game, fun, entertaining, high-level basketball, all the antics and pettiness and stuff. I love all of that.”
Don’t get me wrong, Memphis was in pain after this one. The Warriors’ adjustment to starting Kevon Looney alongside Green in the frontcourt changed everything for them defensively, and Klay Thompson’s latest feats in Game 6 (30 points, 8 of 14 from 3-point range) have played a huge role in the Warriors’ victory. But truth be told, you could tell the Grizzlies thought they were the better team. And after that Game 5 beating at Memphis in which they were leading by as much as 55 points, who could blame them?
As the Grizzlies players left the floor, their general manager and recently named NBA Executive of the Year, Zach Kleiman gave them all a hug before heading to the locker room. Coach Taylor Jenkins then spent more than 10 minutes addressing his team in the locker room.
Jackson had a telling moment during Brooks’ postgame session when he sat among reporters waiting for his turn on the podium and objected to a question about the Warriors that came up to his team-mate: “Do you feel like that was their experience, as much as anything else, that (explains) how they were able to turn things around in their favour? the reporter asked Brooks.
Jackson, staring at his phone, blurted out, “Hell nah.”
When he finally sat down in front of the mic, Jackson made it clear that there was a lot more to come on that fiery front.
“A team like the Warriors, I’ve seen them win for I don’t know how long, since I’ve been alive. Ever since I was younger I watched them win championships and play with each other and have a nice offense,” he said. “But now I am here, we are here. So, (we’ll see each other again). I mean, the story continues, and we’re just amped up to get back there. It is what it is. We’ll be there.”
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(Photo by Steph Curry and Dillon Brooks: Cary Edmondson/USA Today)