SAN FRANCISCO – One by one, the Golden State Warriors’ stars trotted down an arena hallway and heard a horde of fans cheering and chanting their names.
The Warriors had just eliminated the Memphis Grizzlies with a decisive 110-96 Game 6 win on Friday at Chase Center, leaving them with a feeling that had become painfully unfamiliar the past two years. The Warriors will appear in the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2019 and they become the first team since the 2003-08 Detroit Pistons to advance to the conference finals six times in an eight-year span.
“I used to take it for granted and just think that’s the way it’s supposed to be, like we’re supposed to make the Western Conference finals,” Draymond Green said. “I still think that, but I have a much deeper appreciation for it. It’s so hard. It feels like each time it gets tougher and tougher.”
The Warriors will spend Sunday watching the Phoenix Suns battle the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of their semifinal series (8 ET, TNT). On Wednesday, the Warriors will either visit Phoenix or host Dallas.
Below are five takeaways from Game 6.
1. ‘Game 6 Klay’ returned
Klay Thompson finished with 30 points, marking the sixth time in the past seven Game 6s that he has logged at least 25 points. He hit 11 of 22 shots from the field and 8 of 14 from deep, and added eight rebounds.
What is it about Game 6 that brings out the best in Klay?
“I have no clue,” Thompson said. “I love the moments. I love the pressure. I love playing basketball at the highest level. Our careers … we are not singers, we are not actors. We can’t do this until our elder years. So while we are doing it, you just have to appreciate every single night because it goes really fast.”
Thompson has experienced plenty of challenges since scoring 41 points in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City. Or since posting 27 points in a close-out Game 6 win against the Houston Rockets in the 2019 conference finals. And though he had 30 points against the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, Thompson’s night ended with both a Finals loss and an ACL injury that sidelined him for the 2019-20 season. Thompson then missed the 2020-21 campaign too after rupturing his right Achilles tendon.
“I didn’t go to sleep last night thinking of scoring 30 or shooting the ball well,” Thompson said. “I just was thinking about how far I’ve come and how grateful I am to have another close-out game at Chase and luckily it was one of my nights.”
It appeared Thompson would have one of his vintage Game 6 performances as soon as the opening tip. He drilled three 3-pointers in the opening minutes and efficiently delivered on numerous catch-and-shoot opportunities, dribble handoffs and pick-and-rolls.
“One of the toughest guys and most competitive guys I’ve ever played with,” Green said before correcting himself. “The toughest and most competitive player I’ve ever played with, and it showed up tonight. You knew right away he was coming out on fire.”
2. Kevon Looney gets the start, comes up big
As the Warriors processed their Game 5 loss, the conversation inevitably turned toward what lineup adjustments they would make. Both Steph Curry and Green lobbied the coaching staff to start Kevon Looney at center.
Mike Brown, who has taken command of the team in Steve Kerr’s absence, said the decision to start Looney was a “no-brainer.” Looney finished with four points and a playoff career-high 22 rebounds in 35 minutes. Thompson argued that “Kevon was possibly our MVP tonight.”
Players in the last 25 seasons with 20+ rebounds, 10+ offensive rebounds and 5+ assists in a Playoff game (per @EliasSports):
Shaq (April 27, 2003)
Jokic (June 11, 2021)
Looney (tonight) pic.twitter.com/OjSSFlJRJ7
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 14, 2022
“That means a lot when your teammates want you out on the court with them,” Looney said. “I’ve been playing with them the last few years and for them to trust me in these moments is big for me.”
Yet, this decision did not seem so simple.
Though Looney has started in five playoff games, he and Green entered Game 6 yielding only a 7.8 net rating when playing together. With Otto Porter Jr. out with a sore right foot, the Warriors would have limited depth to account for any early foul trouble that Green and Looney might experience. But with the Grizzlies having a size advantage due to Steven Adams’ bulk and length, the Warriors were concerned about a sluggish early start.
“We just knew we needed to come out and establish an inside presence to start the game off, and not worry so much about our scoring,” Green said. “We’ll figure out how to score the basketball. But we needed to establish an inside presence because they made it clear that’s what they were trying to do. They made it clear they were going to beat us up, and they were doing a good job of it. And inserting ‘Loon back into the lineup changed that.”
It sure did. Looney collected 11 of his 22 rebounds in the first quarter and became the first Warriors player to grab that many boards in a playoff game since Larry Smith in 1987.
Loon was EVERYWHERE last night. pic.twitter.com/kes2RA4sPd
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) May 14, 2022
3. Andrew Wiggins showcased his value in a pivotal game
The Warriors’ success does not just rest on how well they blend their championship-tested players with young prospects. It also depends on a player that made his first All-Star appearance this season by complementing everyone around him.
And Friday night, when the Warriors needed him the most, Andrew Wiggins delivered with 18 points and 11 rebounds in 41 minutes.
Curry said he dreamt Thursday night that Wiggins “was going to hit some big shots in the fourth and step up the way he did.” Brown also sensed a huge night after Wiggins told him during morning shootaround that “he’s locked in” and expressed an eagerness to pick up Grizzlies guard Tyus Jones at full court for 48 minutes.
“When a guy like that comes to you and says that,” Brown said, “you know he’s ready for the task at hand.”
Wiggins scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. While Looney played a huge part in neutralizing the Grizzlies’ size advantage, Wiggins made sure the work did not just fall on the big man. He also mixed defensive assignments on the Grizzlies’ backcourt (Jones, Desmond Bane) and frontcourt (Jaren Jackson Jr.).
Wiggins does not always have to carry such a diverse load. But he has proven he can thrive in just about any role with this team. And Friday night, he elevated his play at the most opportune time.
Andrew came up clutch last night down the stretch 📽️ pic.twitter.com/5WJdK9eXbK
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) May 14, 2022
4. Chase Center had its best atmosphere yet
The night started with Warriors fans cheering loudly during pre-game video and lineup introductions. The night ended with Warriors fans singing “Whoop That Trick,” mocking the Grizzlies’ anthem. In between, the fans provided different moments that made this the Warriors’ best playoff home game thus far at Chase Center both in significance and atmosphere.
“It definitely was the loudest,” Green said. “We’ve all talked about the home-court advantage and how this isn’t Oracle and you have to reestablish that home court. I think we are doing a good job of it. Our fans were absolutely incredible tonight. It took everything we had to win that game, including the fan support and the noise that was in the arena.”
Through six playoff games at Chase Center, the fans have gradually peaked into postseason form.
Still upset about Dillon Brooks’ Flagrant Foul 2 on Warriors guard Gary Payton II in Game 2, Warriors fans booed Brooks every time he had the ball and whenever he went to the free-throw line.
Out of support for Payton’s recovery and for being nominated for the NBA’s Community Assist award, Warriors fans gave Payton a loud reception when he was shown on the scoreboard in the middle of the second quarter. They followed the various video promotions that called them to cheer during timeouts and in the fourth quarter. They erupted during Thompson’s game-long outburst and Curry’s fourth-quarter run. And they got the last laugh with the “Whoop That Trick” anthem.
“It was phenomenal,” Curry said. “You had to do it, obviously, but yeah, it’s part of the fun of the playoffs, the fans get to enjoy the celebration however they want to.”
5. Warriors, Grizzlies put Memphis’ season in perspective
Make no mistake: The Warriors developed strong respect for the Grizzlies.
As Brown predicted, “they are going to be around for a long time.”
“This is going to motivate us moving forward” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “The growth individually, the growth collectively from this season, it’s only going to make us better.”
The Grizzlies showed resiliency by countering the Warriors’ adjustments and dealing with Morant’s absence. They’ll enter next season as one of the deepest teams in the league.
Morant shared warm feelings on social media after his team was eliminated, saying the battles against Stephen Curry were “his favorite matchup.”
fav matchup. 💪🏽 looking forward to more battles 30.. https://t.co/qsBkINpjBD
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) May 14, 2022
“They are going to be around for the long haul, and he’s [Murray] a problem,” Curry said. “Definitely an amazing matchup — fun, entertaining, high-level basketball.”
In a series replete with flagrants, ejections, suspensions, injuries and finger-pointing, the respect is not lost.
“That’s a group of young guys that are hungry,” Green said. “They are talented. They are athletic. They got it. 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. They can be special.”
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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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