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Defensive adjustment, tenacity spark Warriors' return to form

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- With the season threatening to slip away, the Golden State Warriors finally looked like themselves. They finally punched back against the burly Memphis Grizzlies, dominating them 101-84 at FedExForum. The series is even at two games apiece mostly because Golden State’s defense showed up, aided by one massive adjustment.

Early in the action, hulking center Andrew Bogut "guarded" 6-foot-4 Tony Allen. This was more of a dare for Allen to take wide-open practice gym shots than it was a defensive assignment for Bogut. Allen obliged and hit his first jumper with that balky pull-back form. He shanked his next four jumpers while the Warriors reaped the benefits of not having to guard a guy. After three games of sticking to their standard defensive look, the Warriors finally packed the paint and challenged non-shooters to hoist. Beyond that strategic shift, the Warriors won this game with defensive tenacity and offensive aggression.

"It didn't affect nothing," Allen said of the big adjustment. "It’s I just wasn't able to give my team the energy tonight. I like that matchup, so hopefully they’ll do it again and I’ll take advantage of it."

If Allen likes the matchup, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger apparently did not. He played Allen 16 minutes before pulling the plug. The adjustment allowed Bogut to roam the court and protect the rim, after he had been occupied with post-ups for so long this series. That’s huge for Golden State.

Also huge was Stephen Curry’s return to form. A lot of eyes were on the league MVP after he struggled with his shot in this series. He opened this particular game by distributing the ball, not electing to shoot until 7 minutes, 30 seconds had passed. What followed was a typical 33-point Curry game, save for one detail: He flew into the paint frequently, snagging eight boards.

“We had to compete and be physical and play hard every possession,” Curry said.

Harrison Barnes, who hasbeen a rock for Golden State this series, further emphasized that physical theme. "After watching Game 3, we saw how we just got punked,” Barnes said. “Offensive rebounds, post ups, how we were running our offense almost from half court. We knew we had to come out and be physical tonight.”

A lot has been asked of Barnes this series. He’s had to guard Zach Randolph despite a 35-pound disadvantage. He has battled capably down low, despite a reputation as one of the more reserved players on the team. In the locker room, Barnes was demonstrative about his approach, frequently smacking his hand for emphasis.

“We knew that we're going to go to the basket. We gotta go through punching,” Barnes said. “And that's what I try to do, try and get fouls. And if we get knocked to the ground, we're gonna get up, and we're gonna go right back at em." He emphasized the point with another hard punch into his hand.

That pugilistic theme continued from Barnes: “Throughout Game 3, we were just getting punched in the face [smacks hand], punched in the face [smacks hand]. I mean, you either gonna lay down, or you're gonna respond.”

Golden State has responded, both strategically and physically. For Barnes, his tone for this series was inspired by another. He was haunted this summer by thoughts of how he could have impacted the Warriors’ Game 7 defeat at the hands of the Clippers last season.

“I do personally regret not being aggressive enough in the Clippers' series,” Barnes said. “That's something honestly I carried with me to this season, this postseason. Feeling like, is there something more I could have done? Whether it be more physical here, more aggressive here, just more aware. I just didn't want that same regret when I'm done to say I wasn't aggressive enough in the postseason.” Right now, after a rocky relationship with the fan base, Barnes leads the charge among Warriors not letting the Grizzlies get their way.

Something else went well for the Warriors on Monday night; something that had been absent this round: Shots went in. After two games in which the Warriors were 22 percent on 3-pointers, which SportVU designates as “wide open,” they were 47 percent on wide-open 3s (8-of-17) in Game 4. That, along with the defense, carried an offense that’s still imperfect. Golden State moved the ball decently, but was sloppy again en route to victory, coughing up 21 turnovers.

When Draymond Green and Stephen Curry were finally subbed out of the blowout, Kerr wrapped his arms around both and delivered a message: "Imagine what we can do if we don't turn the ball over 20 times.”

If they curb the mistakes, they should win the championship. If they fall back on old, bad habits, they could be in danger again. For now, though, they have home-court advantage with three games left, and more than a puncher’s chance in this particular series.