MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies have shown they can finish fourth quarters this postseason.
Well, the Golden State Warriors have been doing this for years, with the championships to prove it.
Klay Thompson hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 36 seconds left, and the Warriors overcame Draymond Green’s first-half ejection to edge the Grizzlies 117-116 on Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
“The core, we’ve got championship DNA, and we wanted to utilize that,” Stephen Curry said. “At this stage, that’s what it’s all about. Never let go of the rope in terms of feeling like you’re out of a game. Big win for us.”
Jordan Poole led the Warriors with a career-high 31 points off the bench, hitting a playoff-best 5 of 10 3-pointers. Curry added 24 points, Andrew Wiggins had 17 and Thompson finished with 15.
Green was ejected for a flagrant foul just before halftime.
“We knew that was a tough break that didn’t go our way and we were all kind of shocked by the decision, but we were confident and determined and the guys stayed with it,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
Thompson missed both free throws with 6.7 seconds left, then Memphis won a jump ball before a timeout with 3.6 seconds remaining to set up the final play. The Grizzlies ran a play similar to Ja Morant’s last-second layup to win Game 5 in the first round, but Morant’s layup went off the backboard and over the rim.
“Ja to go make a play,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said of the final possession. “Got a great look. It just didn’t happen to go in.”
Morant added: “Klay hit a big-time 3, and I missed the layup.”
Thompson helped defend Morant on the final drive, picking up when Gary Payton II was beaten. Thompson called it a “gut-check win” for a team that’s been through so much the past couple years with injuries and missing the playoffs.
“In playoffs, all that matters is that final box-score score and handle business, but we’re far from satisfied,” Thompson said.
Morant finished with 34 points and 10 assists, and Jaren Jackson Jr. matched his season high with six 3-pointers and had a career-high 33 points as Memphis’ first pair of teammates to score at least 30 in a playoff game. D’Anthony Melton added 14, and Brandon Clarke had 12.
The Grizzlies finished their first-round series against Minnesota by coming back from double-digit deficits in their final three wins — the first team in NBA history to do that more than once in a postseason, let alone a series. They came in leading the NBA in the fourth with an average of 33 points and outscoring opponents by 10.3 points a game.
This time, they could only match the Warriors point for point in the period.
Memphis edged the Warriors out for the No. 2 seed in the West by tying the franchise record with 56 wins, and the Grizzlies also took three of four in the season series. Thompson only played one and Green two of those games and Curry three.
This was a rematch with role reversals from the 2015 semifinal the Warriors won as the younger team with Memphis led by experienced vets. This also was just the first time the Warriors started a conference semifinal on the road and third playoff series Golden State didn’t start at home with Kerr as coach.
The Warriors mixed up their lineup, benching Poole in favor of Payton to focus on defending Morant, the Grizzlies’ All-Star point guard and the NBA’s Most Improved Player this season.
Morant had 14 to help the Grizzlies lead 32-24 after the first quarter. The Grizzlies led by as much as 13 in the second quarter and were up 61-55 at halftime.
With 1:18 left in the second, Green fouled Brandon Clarke. Officials reviewed the play for several minutes with fans chanting “Throw him out!” Green finished with six points, four rebounds and five turnovers. Clarke said Green is known for his flagrant fouls.
“He did hit me pretty hard, twice really when I saw it again,” Clarke said. “It’s just coming out and playing our ball. I’m not really worried about him. It’s not shocking that he did that.”
Warriors: Curry passed Dennis Johnson for 23rd for most playoff points with 3,123. Next up is Paul Pierce with 3,180. … They improved to 2-0 in Game 1s this postseason and 20-2 since the 2015 playoffs. … They also started on the road against Houston in 2018 and Toronto in 2019. … They won a road game in a series extending their NBA record to a 25th consecutive series.
Grizzlies: Steven Adams, who led the NBA in offensive rebounds per game during the regular season, missed a second straight game in the health and safety protocols. Ziaire Williams missed his second game with a sore right knee.
“I’ve seen Ja make that layup thousands of times. Even more times in the clutch. It’s a shot he can make in his sleep. … I’m with that shot every day of the week,” Jackson said.
POOLE OFF BENCH
Poole finished with the fifth-most points off the bench in a playoff game for Golden State over the past 40 years. Curry holds the top three spots, including two against Denver in the first round. Poole started each game against Denver before coming off the bench Sunday. Kerr said it was an easy conversation.
“I didn’t say it, but Steph Curry came off the bench for three games, four games?” Kerr said. “If Steph Curry can come off the bench, anybody can come off the bench.”
With Poole’s contribution, Golden State’s bench easily outscored Memphis 47-30. Poole also had eight rebounds and nine assists.
KERR MOVES UP
The Warriors coach notched his 82nd career playoff victory, moving him to ninth all-time and breaking a tie with K.C. Jones. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra is eighth with 89.