Defending, slowing, or even attempting to contain Golden State Warriors point guard and 2015 NBA MVP Stephen Curry is a dilemma every team has struggled with all season, but early in the regular season the Memphis Grizzlies, who were No. 2 in the league with 95.1 points allowed per game, came up with a 105-98 win that stunted a 16-game Warriors winning streak on Dec. 16.
Memphis managed to hold Curry to 19 points on a dreadful 9-for-25 shooting night, and the only discernable difference between that game and the Grizzlies' lopsided 101-86 loss in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals was the presence of point guard Mike Conley.
While Conley missed his third straight game due to fractures around his left eye, Curry lit up the Grizzlies typical stout defense for 22 points and seven assists in a key opening matchup that wasn’t nearly as close as the blowout score suggested. Other than the overwhelmed starting backcourt of Nick Calathes and Courtney Lee, the Grizzlies had little to throw at the player who broke his own three-point shooting record (286) during the regular season.
But according to reports, the Grizzlies could welcome Conley back for Tuesday night’s Game 2 at Oracle Arena with a chance to at least slow Curry and avoid an 0-2 series hole before they head back to Memphis.
Conley suffered fractures around his left eye after he was elbowed in Game 3 of Memphis’ first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers, and he’s missed the Grizzlies last three playoff games after undergoing surgery to repair the nasty-looking injury.
"I believe I will," Conley said to reporters about whether he’ll appear in Game 2. "But I believed that for the last week. So I'm really hopeful. They tell me I can play once I'm ready, and I feel like I'm ready to go. It's just on me."
Conley practiced with the team for the first time since the injury and subsequent surgery Monday, while wearing a protective plastic mask. However, despite the 27-year-old veteran’s determination, Grizzlies head coach David Joerger told reporters the team’s training staff were unsure of Conley’s status for the critical game.
"He's doing better and better," Joerger said Monday. "He did increased activity today, and he'll be listed as doubtful again. If he plays, that'll be great. I'm planning on him not playing, and if he plays, that's a bonus."
Memphis was already up 3-0 against Portland when Conley went down, and split the series’ last two games for a 4-1 victory and the right to play Golden State. The Trail Blazers were a formidable opponent with All-Stars like point guard Damian Lillard and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, but Curry and the Warriors are an entirely different and more efficient animal to cage, especially with Conley less than 100 percent.
Memphis relied on big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph down low against the Blazers, which also let up some pressure on Lee and Calathes, as well as Beno Udrih and Vince Carter coming off the bench.
But with Curry red hot, fellow All-Star Klay Thompson a monster to defend anywhere on the perimeter, as well as Defensive Player of the Year candidate and long-range threat Draymond Green, the Grizzlies defense was pushed to the brink without their floor leader Conley.
During the regular season Conley put up 15.8 points, 5.4 assists and 1.3 steals in 31.8 minutes over the course of 70 games. He also knocked down 38.6 percent of his three-point attempts and got to the free throw line 3.6 times per contest.
"He's a real pick‑and‑roll threat, he's a threat in transition to go end to end,” Joerger said of Conley after Game 1. “He also shoots a high percentage from three, especially as a catch‑and‑shoot guy. They had a lot of guys in the lane. They're very athletic, they are very long across at the wings, so it was very jammed up there for Marc.”
Conley has the type of well-rounded game that won’t exactly give the Warriors defense fits, but does have the potential to make Curry, Thompson, or even reserve point guard Shaun Livingston tire on the defensive end. And as Joerger pointed out, it makes things much easier for Gasol, a two-way big man capable of putting up a double-double every night and swatting and altering shots at will.
"We did some things well. Of course we can do a lot of things a lot better, but I feel like we did some good things,” Gasold said of Game 1. “We've just got to do it more, especially keeping the ball on the middle of the floor where the other team cannot double you. Once they start doubling you from the baseline, they came, they came from the top, they gave you different looks to see how you react to it. But at the end of the day, you've got to play your game.”
Start Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: TNT
Live Online Stream: A live stream is available at TNT Overtime here.
Betting Odds: Golden State -10
Over/Under: 197 points
Prediction: Golden State over Memphis, 105-98