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 his 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 the two teams 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 there 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, Ja Morant told ESPN he didn’t view any team in the Western Conference as a threat. He named just the Boston Celtics as who stands 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 was early in his career, he says any 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,”. Morant called for this Christmas Day match-up on Twitter.
During his postgame interview on ESPN, 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 that year.
Sunday’s game did bring out the best in the Warriors, at least, far better than their previous two games — two 30-plus-point losses in New York and Brooklyn to close a 1-5 road trip.
Jordan Poole scored a team-high 32 points on 11-of-25 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line before being ejected for picking up two technical fouls.
Draymond Green had what Kerr considers to be a quintessential Draymond Green game, finishing with 13 rebounds, 13 assists and just three points. This was Green’s 5th 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 have had a game with a similar feel to this one before — their Dec. 10 win over the Boston Celtics. They said that was a game they could use as a blueprint to guide them.
The common denominator they see between that game and their game on Christmas was their decision-making. In both games, the Warriors didn’t force any shots or make quick decisions that led to errors. And as they navigate the next two weeks (at least) without Stephen Curry, 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 tech. In the fourth quarter, the Warriors picked up four different fouls — take fouls, personal fouls and technical fouls — in two seconds.
But 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.”