SAN FRANCISCO — The Christmas Day matchup between the Warriors and Grizzlies isn’t what schedulers envisioned when they drew it up.

These two teams left each other in the ashes of a fiery Western Conference semifinals last May that included dramatic ejections, gruesome flagrant fouls, broken bones and plenty of biting trash talk. This Grizzlies team had all the athleticism, youth and talent to outrun the Warriors. Ultimately, the Warriors’ playoff experience and star power won out.

It left the audience wanting more.

But in this Christmas rematch, the Warriors won’t look like the team that won the Western Conference semifinals and ultimately the NBA title. A shoulder injury has them without Steph Curry, the star around which this team orbits. Plus, the defending champions are limping back home after an ugly 1-5 East Coast trip with a disappointing 15-18 overall record.

Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are near healthy with Desmond Bane expected to return from a sprained toe. They’re tied for first place in the Western Conference with the Denver Nuggets with a 19-11 record. Unsurprisingly, they’re the betting favorites to win the primetime Christmas matchup on Sunday evening at the Chase Center.

Warriors fans may opt for some family time on Christmas instead of sitting down to watch what could be a beatdown. But the budding rivalry and a little familiarity from the playoffs could give the Warriors a boost and fans a reason to watch.

“Anytime you play a team in the playoffs, a rivalry starts to form,” coach Steve Kerr said. “If you want to talk historic rivalry, Lakers, Celtics, whoever else, has multiple playoff series. There’s a lot of respect, and with respect comes the chirping. It’s great for the fans and both franchises to be in the position that we’re in. They’re on the rise the last few years and we’re hoping to keep our run going and it’s an exciting matchup.”

A budding rivalry could be enough to make this game worth watching. Even without Curry. Here’s a look back at where those rivalry sparks flew.

Klay Thompson versus Memphis

Basking in the glory and champagne of his fourth NBA title after downing the Boston Celtics, Klay Thompson rehashed a few of the little motivations that inspired him throughout the playoff run. Apparently, the Celtics weren’t the only team on his mind.

A tweet from Grizzlies big Jaren Jackson Jr. nagged at him most. Jackson tweeted ‘strength in numbers’ after a Grizzlies regular-season win over the Warriors in March, a perceived dig at the Warriors’ one-time rally cry and slogan. Thompson called out Jackson, not by name, but by insult.

“There is this one player on the Grizzlies who tweeted, ‘Strength in numbers’ after they beat us in the regular season and it pissed me off so much,” Thompson said. “I can’t wait to retweet that thing. Frigging bum.

“Going to mock us? Like, you ain’t ever been there before, bro. We been there. We know what it takes. So to be here again: Hold that. Twitter fingers, can you believe it?

“I’ve got a memory like an elephant. I don’t forget. There were a lot of people kicking us down.”

Broken codes and elbows

The semifinals kicked off with a little Draymond Green fire when he committed a hard foul on Brandon Clarke, seeming to drag the Grizzlies forward to the floor by his jersey while the pair were contesting at the rim. Green was issued a flagrant 2 foul and ejected, he skipped and taunted the Memphis crowd on his way to the locker room.

The Warriors wound up winning Game 1 by a missed Ja Morant layup at the final buzzer. But Memphis upped the physicality in Game 2. And crossed a line.

Dillon Brooks fouled Gary Payton II from behind so viciously on a breakaway that Payton fell hard enough to fracture his elbow. Kerr said Brooks “broke the code,” an unspoken rule that you do not commit hard fouls when players are in a vulnerable position.

“I don’t know if it was intentional but it was dirty,” Kerr said then. “There’s a code that players follow. You never put a guy’s season or career in jeopardy by taking someone out in mid-air and clubbing him across the head and ultimately fracturing Gary’s elbow.”


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