Warriors-Grizzlies playoff series could jump-start rivalry originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Can a team really get revenge from the NBA play-in tournament? That's the case starting Sunday when the Warriors begin their series against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum in the Western Conference semifinals.
This series of course is about much more than the Grizzlies ending the Warriors' season last year, though. The stakes are raised in the present, and this could be a preview of what's to come in the future from a budding rivalry. The Warriors are the team with championship experience whose stars are on the other side of 30, and the Grizzlies are the young and exciting team who show no fear, at least on the outside.
As they proved in the Warriors' first-round series win over the Denver Nuggets, the trio of Steph Curry (34 years old), Klay Thompson (32 years old) and Draymond Green (32 years old) still is awfully hard to beat in a playoff series. The Grizzlies' superstar, Ja Morant, is 22. Their breakout star, Desmond Bane, is 23. Their defensive star, Jaren Jackson Jr., is 22 and their menace, Dillon Brooks, is 26.
That doesn't even include big man Brandon Clarke, 25, who could be a key factor against the Warriors, or 20-year-old rookie Ziaire Williams who is full of upside.
The Grizzlies' biggest issue against the Warriors has been with 38-year-old Andre Iguodala for his reluctance to join Memphis in the summer of 2019 after being traded from Golden State. The three-time champion and former Finals MVP didn't want to be part of a rebuild and wished to play for a franchise he felt was on more of a win-now road at the time. Through the draft and several other smart moves, the Grizzlies accelerated their timeline and Iguodala is out for at least the first two games of the series with a neck injury.
While the Warriors still are led by veterans full of championship DNA, these Grizzlies are the youngest team near the top of the Western Conference since the 2011-12 Oklahoma City Thunder that featured Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka as pups trying to take down the big dogs of the Miami Heat's Big Three led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But the Warriors have bigger plans beyond their aging Big Three as they try to emulate their version of the San Antonio Spurs' model of sustained success.
Rookie Jonathan Kuminga got his first taste of real playoff minutes against the Nuggets, and the 19-year-old should have a larger role against the Grizzlies with his strength and athleticism matching up with Memphis. Moses Moody also is only 19, and though he might not see the floor much in these playoffs, the Warriors are high on him and he already plays much older than his age. James Wiseman will be entering his third go as a rookie next season, and as much you might not want to hear about it right now, his potential at 21 brings dreams the Warriors hope eventually turn into reality.
Then there's the Warriors' rising star, 22-year-old Jordan Poole, who should have won Most Improved Player this season, let alone be named a finalist. The franchise undoubtedly has a championship window that is shrinking. It's no secret they also believe they have a plan in place to open another simultaneously.
The Warriors went just 1-3 against the Grizzlies in the regular season. Their first loss was the fifth game of the season, one where Thompson hadn't returned from his two-and-a-half year absence and Poole played terribly trying to navigate his new, larger responsibility. The second loss was Klay's second game back, Poole scored just 12 points while again juggling another new role and Golden State was without Green. The Warriors were without Steph, Klay and Draymond in their third loss to Memphis, a 28-point blowout, but Poole put up 25 points -- his 14th straight game scoring at least 20 points at the time.
Here's where we remind you all that the Warriors also went 1-3 against the Nuggets in the regular season. Hint: The playoffs bring a brand-new season, especially for a veteran-led squad like the Warriors who battled injuries all season.
Whether it's Ja Morant, his father Tee, or the rest of this feisty team, the Grizzlies want all the smoke. They aren't the first to invite the challenge that is the Warriors and they won't be the last.
The Warriors' rivalry with the Houston Rockets is over. The Thunder are in another rebuild, and the Portland Trail Blazers tried to create one, but that was more of a laughing matter than a real fight. The Cleveland Cavaliers again look like a real franchise with LeBron's shadow slowly fading away. Golden State always will have a rivalry with him and whatever team he decides to play for, purely out of respect. That isn't the case with the Cavs as a whole.
Enter the Grizzlies, who sure look like they're here for the long haul. Golden State isn't going anywhere right now though, and they believe that's the case for years to come. Get ready for fireworks in Memphis, and for them to be sparked once this series comes back to San Francisco.
Rivalries are earned. The Grizzlies have the goods to at least get that done, and this should be a fun one. For now, and possibly for the future.