Warriors’ latest win over Grizzlies proves it’s not true rivalry yet

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Rivalry? Warriors’ latest win over Grizzlies says otherwise originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The Warriors know a rival when they see one, and the Memphis Grizzlies, no matter the volume of chatter, do not qualify.

Yet.

There might come a time, perhaps as soon as next spring, when the stakes and emotions meet the requirements. Facing off in the playoffs for the second consecutive NBA postseason could do the trick. That opportunity can’t come before April or May.

Here in December, though, the Warriors are too much the bully. The defending NBA champions’ emphatic 123-109 victory on Christmas Day at Chase Center is the latest persuasive evidence that the gabby Grizzlies are more nuisance than rival.

“We know what we want to do, and we have done it many times over,” said Klay Thompson, who contributed 24 points and nine rebounds. “There is really nothing that can be said that will ruffle our feathers.

“Back in the mid 2010s, I used to take that stuff to heart. But now, being 12 years in this league, I am just worried about what we can do to be the best that we can be.”

Golden State has beaten Memphis five times in the last seven games – with four wins in the first six coming in the Western Conference semifinals last spring. That sent the Grizzlies home for the summer while the Warriors advanced to the Western Conference finals before moving on to the NBA Finals.

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How much of a rivalry can it be if one team has a 71.4 percent win rate over the other?

And how much can it matter that Memphis star Ja Morant went on record to dismiss the Warriors as a threat? That his teammate Dillon Brooks went on record with his desire to go after Thompson?

“With the playoff series we had with them last year, the fact that they’re the young up-and-coming team, there’s been a lot of chirping, back-and-forth,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s all healthy and it’s good stuff. It’s the spirit of competition and so, it’s fine with me.”

This latest matchup was a prime opportunity for Memphis to advance the concept of a rivalry. The Warriors were coming off a 1-5 road trip and had lost seven of their last nine games. They were without Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins, their top two scorers. They were ripe for the blasting.

The Grizzlies looked ready to crush anything before them. At 19-11, they entered the night in a virtual tie for first place atop the conference. Even before spanking the second-place Suns by 25 points on Friday in Phoenix, they were dismissive of the Warriors. Insofar as Golden State was in 11th place, the confidence didn’t seem completely irrational.

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Then came tipoff. The Grizzlies stayed relatively close until the Warriors went up 10 (43-33) three minutes into the second quarter. Four minutes later, the margin was 15. Everything after that – Golden State led by as much as 20 – was theater.

“It’s definitely picking up steam,” Kerr said of the budding rivalry. “But . . . to really develop a rivalry, there’s got to be, I think multiple playoffs series.

“Last year’s series was really contested and heated. We know how good they are and we’re trying to keep it rolling and they’re trying to knock us off the mountain. It sets up for a really good matchup.”

A rivalry is what the Warriors had with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which for four consecutive seasons delivered heated duels on the big stage of the NBA Finals. Same faces. High stakes. Even with only two meetings in the regular season, familiarity bred contempt.

The Warriors-Cavaliers intensity waned a bit when Kyrie Irving left in 2017, but the last splinters of enmity didn’t leave until the departure of LeBron James the following year.

A rivalry is what the Warriors had with the Los Angeles Clippers from 2013 until the “Lob City” crew, led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, capitulated in 2017. The disrespect was obvious, the hatred genuine, the intensity searing. The animosity predated the 2014 playoffs, which LA won in seven games, and didn’t fade until the Warriors had extracted every ounce of vengeance with a series of beatings.

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What the Grizzlies have the potential to do is replace Golden State’s most recent rival in the West: Houston.

The Warriors are the Rockets met in four of five postseasons from 2015 through 2019. Once in the first round, once in the conference semifinals and twice in the conference finals. Winning 16 of 23 postseason games, the Warriors won all four series. The regular season record against Houston during those five years: 12-6.

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Yet there was open hostility. The referee baiting reached elite levels. The frequency of the meetings made for serial drama – until the Rockets were broken for good in 2019.

The Grizzlies are talented. They are deep. They are young. They are coming.

As winners of exactly one postseason series, a first-round win over the Minnesota Timberwolves last April, they are not credentialed. Until they are, this can’t be a rivalry.

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