SAN FRANCISCO — Steph Curry had the final say in the game itself, so it only made sense he would have the last word long after it was over, too.
As midnight neared inside Chase Center, where Curry and his aging Golden State Warriors somehow had survived against this upstart Memphis Grizzlies squad in their 110-96 closeout win in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, the 34-year-old had one last long-range attempt to bury before he called it a Friday night. For three quarters, he had struggled to solve the Grizzlies defense that left him looking nothing like his all-time-great self.
Dillon Brooks was the first wave, but then the help would always come: 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 outmatched for so much of this series.
During our brief chat on his way toward the exits, I relayed the fact that Brooks had done a Father Time flex of sorts on his way out.
“They know that we’re going to come every single year,” the 26-year-old Brooks said after scoring 30 points and making Curry work for all of his 29 (on 10-of-27 shooting overall and 6-of-17 shooting from 3-point range). “We’re young, and they’re getting old. So, they know we’re coming every single year.”
Curry, true to form, was ready with a counter.
“He’s said a lot of crazy things,” Curry told The Athletic with a smile while glancing at nearby cameras from NBA TV. “He called himself a dynasty already, so you’ve got to figure. On to the next round. Western Conference finals, we’re back. Let’s goooo!”
In this Warriors’ renaissance era, where they’re trying to extend an actual dynasty — they won three titles in all and went to five consecutive Finals to earn that description — the Grizzlies quickly have become the closest thing they have to a rival. The Play-In game in 2021 was the genesis of it all, with Memphis bouncing Golden State in the kind of way that became a point of pride for all of the Grizzlies.
But even before that, there was the Andre Iguodala saga that set the stage for this matchup that is equal parts mutual respect and rhetoric. The Warriors veteran, of course, made the controversial business decision to not join Memphis after he was traded to the Grizzlies in July of 2019.
The young Grizzlies took offense, with Brooks stating that Iguodala had missed out on “this dynasty.” With the Warriors’ age, it seems, comes the memory of an elephant.
In truth, the beauty of this matchup is that there’s an iron-sharpens-iron element both sides were willing to acknowledge. Bad blood be damned.
Even with the Gary Payton II injury that inspired Warriors coach Steve Kerr to say that Brooks had “broke the code,” or the Ja Morant knee injury in Game 3 that the Grizzlies blamed on Jordan Poole before backtracking days later, the reverence reigned on both sides. Draymond Green even admitted afterward that he’d originally planned on trolling the Grizzlies during his closeout game press conference, spending “multiple days” concocting references to “Grit and Grind” and “Whoop That Trick” in his mind that would have been good for a few petty Warriors laughs. In the end, though, he couldn’t help but heap praise upon this group that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“The only thing I can do is give my respect to that team; they earned that,” Green said. “You know, there was a lot of talk in this series of fouls and this and that, and this should be reviewed and that should be reviewed. I think it really started to take away from what was a really great, great, series with two amazing teams.
“That’s a group of young guys who — obviously, you get to the business side of things, and you’ve got to keep that together — but that’s a group of young guys that are hungry. They are talented. They are athletic. They got it. You know, it will be good to see their progression over these next few years and where they can take it, because that’s an incredible young team. You know, they can be special. They can be really special.”
The Warriors know they escaped here, that they struggled with the dynamic version of the Grizzlies that included Morant and the one that’s even better without him defensively. Acrimonious history aside, Curry was no different than Green when it came to the way he sees this Memphis group that has such a bright future.
“I have a lot of respect for every single guy on the team in terms of how they are built as a group, the individual talent,” Curry said in his press conference. “They have a lot of energy, a lot of potential in terms of winning at the highest level.
“They were the higher seed for a reason. They had an amazing regular season and dominated throughout the course of those 82 games. For us to be able to come out of the series with a W, like, there’s definitely respect. There’s definitely an understanding that they made us better. I’m sure we made them better. And who knows what happens down the road, but they will be here for a long time just because they have a lot going for them. So, definitely respect.”
Midway through Curry’s press conference, Morant shared that same feeling by way of his Twitter account.
fav matchup. 💪🏽 looking forward to more battles 30.. https://t.co/qsBkINpjBD
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) May 14, 2022
“He’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 confidence we could finish out the series. But he requires all of your attention. … Sky’s the limit.
“Like I said, they are going to be around for a long time, you know, fighting for Western Conference prowess. … We’ll enjoy this and keep moving towards our goal, but you have to understand that they are going to be around for the long haul, and he’s a problem. So, definitely an amazing matchup, fun, entertaining, high-level basketball, all the antics and pettiness and all that stuff. I love all of it.”
Make no mistake, Memphis was hurting after this one. The Warriors’ adjustment to start Kevon Looney alongside Green in the frontcourt changed everything for them defensively, and Klay Thompson’s latest Game 6 heroics (30 points, 8 of 14 from 3-point range) played a massive part in the Warriors’ win. But truth be told, you could tell the Grizzlies believed they were the better team. And after that Game 5 beatdown in Memphis in which they led by as many as 55 points, who could blame them?
As the Grizzlies players came off the floor, their general manager and recently named NBA Executive of the Year, Zach Kleiman, hugged each and every one of them before they headed into the locker room. Coach Taylor Jenkins spent more than 10 minutes addressing his team in the locker room afterward.
Jackson had a revealing moment during Brooks’ press conference when he sat among the reporters while waiting for his turn at the podium and took exception to a question about the Warriors that came his teammate’s way: “Do you feel it was their experience, as much as anything else, that (explains) how they were able to turn it around in their favor?” the reporter asked Brooks.
Jackson, staring at his phone, blurted out, “Hell nah.”
When he finally sat in front of the microphone, Jackson made it clear that there’s much more to come on this fiery front.
“A team like the Warriors, I’ve been seeing win since I don’t know how long, since I’ve been alive. Since I was younger, I was watching them win championships and play with each other and have a nice offense,” he said. “But now I’m here, we’re here. So, (we’ll) see y’all again. I mean, the story continues, and we’re just amped to get back out there. That’s what it is. We’ll be there.”
(Photo of Steph Curry and Dillon Brooks: Cary Edmondson / USA Today)