MEMPHIS — Moments before they learned Draymond Green had been ejected from the sport, Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr and guard Stephen Curry looked out at the gang Green had enraged. Kerr and Curry laughed as fans chanted, “Throw him out.”
However the longer the referees took to review Green’s hard foul on Memphis Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke, the more concerned they looked. Green sat on the scorer’s table, expressionless, until the referees delivered his fate.
Kerr and Curry began shouting on the officials about how outrageous they found the decision. Green leaped from his seat and ran to the alternative sideline, returning to the Golden State bench to say goodbye to his teammates. Fans cheered, and Green motioned for them to get louder. They were comfortable to oblige and jeered at Green as he skipped backward toward the tunnel to the locker room, where he watched the remainder of the sport.
Golden State has experience with all this — with Green being ejected, with a hostile crowd, with a young opponent that isn’t afraid. So, at halftime, the team wasn’t concerned. On this game, the Warriors drew on their experience, their determination and their delight at being back within the playoffs after a two-year drought to beat Memphis, 117-116, in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series.
“I just missed every little thing about this atmosphere and opportunity to play meaningful games that require every little thing,” Curry said. “I missed every little thing about it.”
The Grizzlies got thus far with the second-best record within the N.B.A. this season, and reached the second round with a taxing win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. It took them six games, and so they often saw big deficits. They closed games with enough ferocity that the Timberwolves ran out of steam.
Memphis finished that series on Friday night, then traveled home to welcome the Warriors two days later.
Golden State, which had the third-best record within the league, needed only five games to beat the Denver Nuggets. They ended the season of Nikola Jokic, a top candidate to win the N.B.A.’s Most Helpful Player Award and had a three-day break before Sunday’s game.
They’d missed the playoffs up to now two seasons because Klay Thompson had been hurt for each seasons entirely, and Curry for parts of every. Healthy once the playoffs began, Golden State had the luxurious of mixing seasoned children like Gary Payton II, who began the sport and helped on a game-saving defensive stop, and Jordan Poole, who scored 31 points off the bench, with three men who won three championships together in Curry, Green and Thompson. It gave Golden State an edge, but not one which scared the Grizzlies.
Famously confident, particularly in front of its boisterous home crowd, Memphis punched first in the sport, with back-to-back 3s by Ja Morant. Memphis led the Warriors by 10 points in the primary quarter and had a 6-point lead at halftime, behind Morant’s 18 and Jaren Jackson Jr.’s 14. Jackson, who had struggled against a much bigger Timberwolves team, finished with a season-high 33 points.
Poole began throughout the primary round, but needing Payton’s defensive presence, Kerr switched his lineup for this game.
“Tonight is the rule moderately than the exception,” Kerr said. “The Jordan we’ve seen now the previous few months, that is what he looks like.”
Throughout the primary half, the Grizzlies looked able to difficult the Warriors, regardless that this was their first time, as a gaggle, to make it to the second round of the playoffs.
When Green fouled Clarke, Memphis led by three.
Green’s right and left hands struck Clarke, and a replay in the world showed Green grabbing and pulling on Clarke’s jersey, then grabbing it to forestall him from hitting the bottom too hard.
“He’s been known for flagrant fouls in his profession; I’ve watched him on TV my whole life it appears like,” said Clarke, who’s seven years younger than Green. “So I wasn’t really shocked.”
Green said on his podcast that he was attempting to hold Clarke up, and hoped the league would scale back the foul from a flagrant-2 to the lesser offense of a flagrant-1. Each flagrant foul accumulates points, and through the 2016 N.B.A. finals, Green was suspended for a pivotal game because he accrued too many flagrant points. The Warriors lost the series.
Golden State didn’t expect an ejection, but Green’s body language as he left the court through the replay indicated he knew he had erred. Kerr said the referees told him that Green’s ejection got here because he hit Clarke within the face and threw him to the bottom.
“It’s unlucky,” Thompson said. “We’re not the identical team without him. But I’m incredibly happy with how we responded.”
At halftime, Golden State steeled its resolve, but still needed late heroics to win the sport. As young and inexperienced as they were, Memphis didn’t yield easily.
With 39.7 seconds left, the Warriors secured a jump ball and Thompson hit a 3-pointer to offer the Warriors a 117-116 lead.
Curry stripped Morant on the Grizzlies’ next possession, leaving Golden State seconds from a victory. Asked concerning the play after the sport, Curry said he barely remembered it. In that moment, moderately than looking pleased, the Warriors looked indignant and defiant, with Curry sauntering across the court.
“I played indignant,” Thompson admitted after the sport.
Thompson missed two free throws with 6.7 seconds remaining, giving Memphis one last probability.
“I’ve learned from a lot experience that you might have to maneuver forward,” Thompson said. “We still had the lead, still had time on the clock. We needed to get a stop.”
Said Curry, when told of Thompson’s quote: “That’s just championship DNA and having the ability to deal with what helps win games.”
Morant backed away from the basket as his team arrange a play.
“They put him within the backcourt, and we knew they were going to attempt to get him to go downhill,” Poole said. He added: “Seen that play a pair times.”
The sport ended with a miss by Morant, who was guarded by Thompson and Payton.
“I used to be actually beat on the play,” Payton said. “Thank God Klay Thompson had my back and sniffed it out.”
Thompson ran to midcourt screaming “Come on!” because the fans filed out.
“It feels really good to know that these guys have been within the fight and so they have championship experience,” Poole said. “They understand how necessary specific possessions are. It was huge. Just having the ability to follow in those guys’ footsteps and watch the way in which that they move was huge for us today.”
Curry joined Thompson at midcourt after the sport, shouting in celebration. Television cameras caught Green celebrating within the tunnel, waiting for them.