SAN FRANCISCO — With 3:43 to go in the fourth quarter, Klay Thompson rose above Dillon Brooks to knock down a 20-foot jump shot to put the Golden State Warriors up 16.
Brooks stumbled backward, falling over in the process. As Thompson ran back on defense, he leaned over Brooks, side shuffling three times while sticking his tongue in Brooks’ face.
« Some good, old-fashioned trash talk, » Thompson said. « It’s always fun to talk trash. We’ve been doing that since we were in middle school. You usually play your best or you get frazzled. For me, it’s usually the former. »
Heading into the Warriors’ Christmas Day 123-109 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, both sides were hesitant to call the relationship between them a rivalry.
Sure, they have a brief history: The Grizzlies eliminated the Warriors in the play-in tournament in 2021, and the Warriors ended Memphis’ season last year in the Western Conference semifinals. There’s been plenty of trash talk between the two teams over the past several months. But there isn’t enough for a full-blown rivalry, they said.
Yet, their first meeting of this season felt like the next chapter in what’s a very real (budding) rivalry.
« It’s definitely picking up steam, » Kerr said. « [But] to really develop a rivalry, there’s got to be multiple playoff series. Last year’s series was really contested and heated. We know how good they are, and we’re trying to keep it rolling. They’re trying to knock us off the mountain. »
Several days before Christmas, Memphis point guard Ja Morant, 23, told ESPN he didn’t view any team in the Western Conference as a threat. He named just the Boston Celtics as standing out as a threat to the Grizzlies’ title aspirations.
Thompson, who scored 24 points, said he didn’t see that interview or Morant’s comments. And unlike 10 years ago, when Thompson, 32, was early in his career, he said external trash talk doesn’t impact him.
Trash talk is nothing new between these two teams in particular.
Kerr said the Grizzlies broke the code when Brooks injured Gary Payton II in the Western Conference semifinals. Jaren Jackson Jr. made fun of the Warriors’ « Strength in Numbers » slogan, and Thompson subsequently called him a « freaking bum » and a « clown. » In June, Morant called for this Christmas Day matchup on Twitter.
During his postgame interview on ESPN on Sunday, Thompson said, « They were talking about dynasty and all of that stuff. You can’t talk dynasty when you haven’t won before. … I thought that was premature talk, to even mention that word. But they bring the best out of us, and I think we do the same. »
The dynasty comment Thompson was referring to was when Brooks said Memphis was in the process of building a dynasty in March 2022 after their final regular-season meeting.
Sunday’s contest did bring out the best in the Warriors or at least far better than their previous two games — two 30-plus-point losses, at the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, to close a 1-5 road trip.
The Warriors’ Jordan Poole scored a team-high 32 points on 11-of-25 shooting from the field and was 7-of-8 from the free throw line before being ejected for picking up two technical fouls.
Golden State forward Draymond Green had what Kerr considers a quintessential Draymond Green game, finishing with 13 rebounds, 13 assists and just three points. It was Green’s fifth career non-points double-double, good for second all time in the category, behind Jason Kidd (25). No other player has more than eight.
The Warriors’ Dec. 10 win over the Celtics had a similar feel to this one, and the Warriors had said they could use that game as a blueprint to guide them.
The common denominator the Warriors said they see between the Celtics game and the one on Christmas is their decision-making. In both games, the Warriors didn’t force shots or make quick decisions that led to errors. And as they navigate the next two weeks (at least) without Stephen Curry (shoulder), there is an even smaller margin of error.
Still, there was room for improvement against the Grizzlies. Golden State picked up six technical fouls. The final three plays at the end of the first half were a Poole turnover, Thompson fouling a 3-point shooter and a Poole technical foul. In the fourth quarter, the Warriors picked up four different fouls — take, personal and technical fouls — in two seconds.
Even with those sloppier moments, the Warriors knew they wanted — and needed — to make a statement game.
« They’re talented, we’re talented, we’re seasoned and we’re trying to hold these young bucks off as long as we can, » Thompson said. « It was a good night to send them a message because you never know who you’re going to see down the road. This team is a potential team we could play in the playoffs. So whenever we play them, there are always fireworks. «