The Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies are relative afterthoughts compared to the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. Since the Warriors and Grizzlies have far less experience than the Spurs and Thunder, it looked like the path was clear for another Oklahoma City-San Antonio Western Conference final.
After the Thunder rallied over the Grizzlies in Game 1 on May 5, and the Spurs had a more improbable come-from-behind opening win over the Warriors on May 6, it seemed like Memphis and Golden State blew their best chances for an upset. Instead, the Grizzlies came right back to upset the Thunder by 99-93 on May 7, and the Warriors followed suit in knocking off the Spurs by 100-91 on May 8.
Memphis should have had no chance after blowing Game 1, especially with Oklahoma City’s daunting home court advantage. Likewise, after Golden State lost a huge lead and got knocked off in double overtime in its Game 1, it should have laid down in Game 2 – especially since it still hadn’t won in San Antonio in the Tim Duncan era.
But the Grizzlies set the example with a much stronger finish in their rematch with the Thunder. However, the Warriors were even more impressive in taking a 19-point halftime lead over the Spurs in Game 2, fueled by seven first-half three-pointers by Klay Thompson. Yet when the Spurs made another second half rally, it appeared history would repeat itself.
However, like Memphis, Golden State learned from its late Game 1 mistakes. San Antonio got no closer than six points, as it ran out of gas this time around. Although it took an extra night, the Spurs finally lost home court advantage to a big underdog, like the Thunder did before them.
The Spurs and Thunder have been the kings of the West the last two seasons. Given that the Warriors are young and inexperienced and the Grizzlies have never been past the second round, the stage seemed set for the Spurs and Thunder to cruise towards a rematch. Instead, both favorites are extremely lucky that they aren’t down by 2-0.
If the Warriors could put their Game 1 collapse behind them so easily, it is clear they aren’t going away. Likewise, the Grizzlies are not intimidated by the Thunder, or Kevin Durant’s one-man shows after the loss of Russell Westbrook.
The Spurs and Thunder have each squandered their seemingly untouchable home court advantage, and have been largely outplayed at home. Now they have to use some road magic themselves, which could be a tall order. The Warriors and Grizzlies each went 3-0 at home in the first round to upset higher seeds, and a similar performance would put them both in the conference finals.
Will a Spurs-Thunder conference final rematch give way to a Grizzlies-Warriors matchup instead? It sounded ridiculous before the second round began, then looked even more improbable after their Game 1 losses.
But in truth, Memphis and Golden State have been the better teams in the Western semifinals so far, especially with their quick Game 2 recoveries. If they can play even better with momentum on their side at home, San Antonio and Oklahoma City could become the underdogs before long.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long NBA fan and viewer, despite the misery his hometown 76ers have provided.