The Warriors were down 36-19 at the end of the first quarter, and trailed by the same amount at halftime. The Raptors couldn’t miss, the Warriors weren’t defending, and the crowd was getting restless.
Mark Jackson didn’t speak at halftime. He didn’t have to. The players took it upon themselves to let each other know how embarrassed they should all be, losing by so much to a bad team like the Raptors.
“It was pretty vocal,” Stephen Curry said. “Jermaine was the most vocal, just trying to make us understand that we have to have the resolve as a team to be more consistent … to have the mentality that we have to work for everything we’re going to get this year.”
Except what they did in the beginning of the third quarter didn’t work. Toronto’s lead ballooned to 27. Joe Lacob looked like he was ready to set fire to the building if things didn’t turn around, and quickly. The Warriors ended the third quarter with a 6-0 run to drop the deficit to 18, and then this team that’s had so much trouble all season in fourth quarters played their best quarter of the season. They outscored the Raptors 42-15 in the final quarter to win 112-103.
It was something one had to see to believe. The same team that looked so bad, that allowed Amir Johnson and Steve Novak to score at will, looked as brilliant as ever over the last 14 minutes of a game they needed to win as they head back out on the road to play some teams with much better records and players than Toronto.
Jackson deserves a lot of credit. The team came out flatter than a Nebraska highway, but after trying out several lineups he stuck with the ones that worked. Mo Speights was deservedly buried on the bench after just five minutes in the first half, and he knew that Andrew Bogut was having an off night on the defensive end. Jackson said a lot of nice things about Bogut’s “presence” afterward, but he knows that the Warriors started their 48-15 game-clinching run when Bogut was replaced by the man Jackson allowed to speak during halftime without interruption.
“I’m not insecure. I’m not a guy who claims to know it all. I’ve seen coaches yell and call timeouts and do all of that. Players know what’s wrong, they don’t need a speech,” Jackson said.
“Jermaine did a lot of the talking (at halftime). I pretty much wrapped it up with ‘Bring it in.’ Best speech I ever gave.”
O’Neal also came through with what the Warriors were missing defensively, with turn-back-the-clock defense and eight rebounds over the last 14 minutes. Draymond Green locked up every swingman on the Raptors’ roster when the Warriors needed it most.
Curry was the offensive catalyst, scoring 23 points of his 27 points in the second half and dishing out 10 assists. He also had five steals, something the team needed to get the team in transition and out of the halfcourt funk they were mired in as the Raptors built a ridiculously large lead.
Without Curry dodging flying defenders and nailing threes, or throwing gorgeous one-handed and sometimes left-handed passes to open three-point shooters like Klay Thompson (who went 6-for-12 from distance), the Warriors wouldn’t have won. But they also wouldn’t have won without O’Neal’s production, oratory skills or, perhaps most importantly, his sense of urgency.
“The thing I saw in him was the leadership qualities,” Bob Myers said. “I didn’t hear what he said (at halftime), but the ability to do something like that. The ability to do something like he did tonight, get us a win. The team isn’t on his shoulders, but a win or two or five here or there makes a difference. Tonight I think he was a huge part of the victory.”
The Warriors couldn’t have done it either without — forget the most loyal — the most patient fans in the NBA. They murmured when the team floundered early, they groaned when the Raptors kept pouring it on early in the second half. But once Thompson’s three late in the third made the score 88-70 and the crowd reacted like they just went up by one at the end of a playoff game, they never stopped yelling. They didn’t even sit down, as Lacob was sure to point out during the middle of Myers’ interview.
“The reason we won this game? The fans. Stood for the entire 4th quarter. Think about that. We’re down 20. They deserve the assist,” said the Warriors owner.
I asked Curry about Lacob’s comments and why he and Thompson were so demonstrative near the end of the game, raising their arms to get the crowd to cheer even louder.
“We didn’t give them anything to cheer about in the first 36 minutes,” Curry said. “For us to give them something to cheer about in the fourth quarter, get our homecourt advantage back, was huge. I think they were kind of in shock that we were back in the game. So for us to wave at ‘em, get them to keep the noise level up, it makes a difference for the visiting teams coming in here. It’s up to us to give them something to cheer about though, because they definitely bring it when it’s necessary.”
Jermaine O’Neal Postgame Quotes
After being around O’Neal for nine minutes after the game, I can only imagine what it must have been like for his teammates to listen to him during halftime. I jotted down some of the best parts from that interview, which focused a lot on winning a championship.
For someone who started getting flashbacks to the days of Keith Smart, Acie Law, Al Thornton and Vladimir Radmanovic after the first half, to hear someone talk about the ultimate prize so much in the Warriors locker room was striking, to say the least. While he said the atmosphere after the win was “happy,” O’Neal was in no mood to forget the awful play over the first two and a half quarters that put the Warriors in a position where a win seemed impossible.
On what he told the team at halftime:
“We should’ve given our fans their money back after that first half of basketball. Very disappointing, considering we’re talking about doing something special. If we’re going to be a good team, we’ve got to play like a good team. Take care of business against teams that are underperforming right now.
“If we’re going to be a good team, we shouldn’t have moments when we’re ashamed and we’re down damn near 30. We talked about resolve and really challenged the guys to show what that resolve was.
“If we’re talking about being a playoff team or we’re talking about being a eighth, seventh, sixth seed, whatever that was, that’s good enough. But if we’re talking about winning a championship, then we need to figure out a way to bring it every single night, dispose of the teams that we’re supposed to dispose of and grind like hell against top echelon teams.”
O’Neal has championship expectations, and he wants those shared by everyone else:
“One thing we’ve got to realize is we haven’t won anything. There’s a lot of talk about us. But this team went to the second round last year. They didn’t go to the Conference Finals or the NBA Finals. So you can feel good about getting to the second round, but if you’re talking about winning a championship that’s a very difficult thing to do. It’s difficult to get to the Conference Finals. Very difficult. Every game is a character builder for us. If we’re going to be as good as we think we can be, which I think we can be really good, games like this – we can’t have first halves like that. There’s going to be some times when we get down eight, ten points and make a run. You can’t get down 30. That’s unacceptable.
“One thing I like about this team, it’s like I don’t know if you guys have been to like a forrest camp, where guys sit around a camp and they listen and they absorb the stories, they absorb whatever the leadership is, and they respond. For the most part this team does that. I’m very proud of that, that these guys are prideful, great guys. But it’s still a work in progress. We have some work to do if we’re talking about beating the Indianas, the Miamis, the OKCs, all these other upper echelon type of teams, if we’re talking about beating them and winning it all. But I like the character of the guys, and tonight in the second half showed just what type of character we have.”
On why he’s here:
“I’m not one of those guys that gets to yelling and screaming and I have no angle to it. It’s real. This is real. Some people put in a lot of time and effort into this. The preparation that coach Jackson and his staff puts into this. The fan support that we get in this building every single night. The ownership, the money that they put into this team. You don’t get this. You don’t get this type of opportunity a lot. We have to do a better job of understanding what’s all at stake here.
“Because you may not get this opportunity again in another year to compete for a championship. I know that firsthand. I tell these guys, I’m into my 18th year. I’m not playing for any money. I’m playing for a championship. Because God has blessed me to make a nice living for my family and be a building block for my family for many years, but I’m still playing only to try to win a championship. Because I’m envious of guys opening up the champagne and crying, confetti, and that’s something that I dream about. It ain’t given that we’re going to get an opportunity to win because we’re young. Anything can happen, injuries, trades, whatever it may be. We’ve got an opportunity and we’ve got to take advantage of that.”