Stephen Curry offers a simple answer for all the back and forth between his four-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors and the upstart Memphis Grizzlies over the past two seasons.
For Curry, it’s not a feud or a bitter rivalry. The Warriors don't have the same history with the Grizzlies that they do with say, the Cavaliers. Or with LeBron James in whatever uniform he’s wearing.
“Just a team that is tough to beat,” Curry said about the Grizzlies. “They're really talented. ... Also a team that you're going to need to play well to beat, but the history isn't there yet.”
Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. disagrees.
“Every time we touch the floor, it’s a rivalry,” Jackson said. “We saw this team many times. We feel like every single time we’re out there with them, it’s a rivalry for sure.”
There always seems to be some drama, a little something extra when the teams meet: hard fouls, trash-talking or some other theatrics.
Warriors guard Jordan Poole said earlier this week: “I guess some days you can call it a rivalry."
Whatever it is, the Warriors and the young, brash Grizzlies are usually must-see TV.
The bad blood between the two really began to percolate during last season's playoffs when Gary Payton II suffered a broken left elbow in Game 2 after a flagrant foul that got Memphis’ Dillon Brooks suspended for Game 3.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Brooks crossed the line and “broke the code” of NBA conduct.
Ja Morant fired back after limping off in the fourth quarter of Game 3. Warriors guard Jordan Poole grabbed his knee while trying to strip the ball and Morant later posted, and then deleted, video of the play with the words “broke the code.”
And the ill will has carried over into their first three games this season:
— Klay Thompson drew a technical in that Christmas night win for standing over and taunting Dillon Brooks as he was down on the court. Thompson called it “some good old-fashioned trash talk.” Poole was ejected, and even Kerr drew one of Golden State’s six technicals in the game.
— Curry was ejected from Golden State’s 122-120 win on Jan. 25 after tossing his mouthpiece in frustration, seemingly more with this teammates than with the Grizzlies.
— Brooks and Green got up close and personal after a steal and bucket in Memphis’ 131-110 wire-to-wire win a week ago, standing face-to-face with the 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Green said after the game Brooks was trying to bait him into a technical foul but that he only draws a tech when he wants.
“One of us (is) baitable and one of us” isn’t, said Green, who had said on his podcast before that game that the Grizzlies’ dynasty would start only after they get rid of Brooks.
Brooks responded after the Grizzlies’ win: “The fact that he was trying to pin my teammates against me. That was a low blow. But that’s the type of player he is.”
So, no the history isn't there and the Warriors downplay the matchup — it's clear the Grizzlies have Golden State's attention.
There should be playoff atmosphere Saturday in the teams' final regular-season matchup, which has postseason implications.
Morant will still be sidelined as part of his now eight-game suspension by the NBA for displaying a gun while at a Colorado strip club in the early hours of March 4.
Though Memphis routed Golden State last week without Morant.
Golden State needs every road win it can steal down the stretch. The Warriors are 7-27 away from home this season. Curry, who is having another MVP-caliber season, understands the urgency and had 50 points Wednesday night in a road loss against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Grizzlies would like to extend the Warriors' road woes, not that they need any extra incentives when playing Golden State.
“We have all the motivation that we need playing this team just as is, just the history that we got with them,” Grizzlies guard Tyus Jones said. “It’s always a battle. It’s always an intense matchup.”
Green made clear the standard that he uses to gauge whether or not the Warriors and Grizzlies become a true rivalry: winning titles, not a game here or there.
“Clearly we won four times, and I think their organization has zero championships, so I can’t consider that a rivalry,” Green said.
Maybe not, but their matchups have been very entertaining.