The upstart Memphis Grizzlies went toe-to-toe with the eventual champion Golden State Warriors and built one of the best rivalries of 2022.
The young Memphis Grizzlies made a surprising run to the playoffs last season behind the breakout season from Ja Morant. They took two regular-season games from the Grizzlies after the calendar flipped to 2022, before falling to the Warriors in the second round of the playoffs.
The Warriors turned the Grizzlies into a speed bump on their way to a championship but on the way they stoked the fires of a budding rivalry that should carry on for years.
As part of our Fandoms of the Year project, we’re taking this week to celebrate some of the best rivalries of 2022. To get more perspective on the Warriors vs. Grizzlies rivalry, and what it felt like to be on either side of it in 2022, we’re turning it over to some of their biggest fans.
The Golden State Warriors perspective
This is not the first iteration of a Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies rivalry, and this will not be the last. The Warriors’ dynasty started with Steph, Klay and Draymond taking down the Grit n Grind Grizzlies. And it now comes full circle, where the legendary trio is staring at their own mortality, and simultaneously NBA immortality, in the face as they took down Ja Morant’s squad last season on the way to a championship and perhaps many more times in the next few years.
To go all the way back, it really started with Andre Iguodala getting offloaded to the Grizzlies when the Warriors had to make room for the sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell and Kevin Durant. Iguodala proceeded to not want to show up, refusing to play for a young team and getting shipped off to the Miami Heat. Dillon Brooks, amongst others, did not take kindly, even saying out loud that Andre was missing out on the next dynasty. Fast forward to the Memphis Grizzlies running through the Warriors in the regular season en route to the 2-seed and home-court advantage in a second-round series.
And then all hell broke loose.
Draymond Green got ejected for a questionable flagrant 2 foul on Brandon Clarke. The Warriors steal Game 1 behind Klay’s clutch 3 and Steph’s stop on Ja. Memphis gets back Game 2 on Ja’s incredible finish in crunchtime but the game is marred by Dillon Brooks’ blatant dirty hit breaking Gary Payton II’s elbow in the process. Warriors blow out Memphis Game 3, Ja gets hurt, Taylor Jenkins and Ja publicly blame Jordan Poole for the injury when replays show contact was light and incidental at best. Then the Warriors end up going down by 55 in Game 5 (with Draymond dancing on the floor to Memphis’ Whoop That Trick song) before closing it out in Game 6.
This rivalry matters because the NBA doesn’t do hatred, disgust, and competition the way the Warriors and Grizzlies are going to go at it again this season. As a fan, you genuinely dislike Taylor Jenkins for calling out Jordan Poole unnecessarily and asking for suspensions. You do not enjoy Ja Morant’s constant social media digs. And you absolutely abhor the Grizzlies’ cockiness when the team hasn’t even made the conference finals.
As a Warriors fan, they remind you of the James Harden Rockets rather than the LeBron James’ Cavaliers. Beat us, then talk. But with all great rivalries, the two teams are always more similar to each other than they’d admit. And if Ja (superstar), Jaren (defense), and Bane (sidekick shooter) do become the answer to the Warriors’ Steph, Draymond, and Klay, then we’ll have another great few years of postseason play.
The Memphis Grizzlies perspective
The Memphis Grizzlies’ rivalry with the Golden State Warriors feels forced at times. The social media back and forths seem to be more of an attempt to get the already very lively “NBA Twitter” community riled up, and goodness knows those efforts are successful. But it is important to remember that these two teams legitimately do not like each other – mutual respect is different from mutual affection. There’s no love lost between Golden State and Memphis.
From “codes” being broken to injuries to key players, from a braggadocious veteran champion in Draymond Green to an audacious Ja Morant to steps down from no one, the stars align between these two teams not just to shine in the NBA universe, but to have drama. The personalities are too big – Morant’s star continues to ascend, and the Warriors are the most popular squad in the entire Association. The defending champions surely don’t see themselves on the Grizzlies’ level – but Memphis does.
And perhaps in there lies the real source of the “beef”. The Grizzlies want to be what the Warriors are. Both franchises have key star players that are homegrown, drafted by the team. Both sets of corps have humble beginnings, perennial proverbial chips on their shoulders that will never be removed. Golden State is the old lion that rules the savanna, and Memphis is the young lion, lurking, waiting to take over the pride. The Warriors aren’t ready to let go. The Grizzlies will try to take it from them. They’ve failed once before…
But will the same be true the next time?