Sometimes you have to hit bottom before you can reach new heights. That’s what happened to the Warriors on Tuesday night, a game that will no doubt be remembered for one of, if not the, greatest comebacks in franchise history, but actually represents a much larger significance in the grander scheme of things.
At 9:20 left in the third quarter, Kyle Lowry hit a jumper to put the Raptors up 27 points, essentially ending any and all hope the Warriors had of salvaging a much-needed win. That was the Dubs hitting bottom, getting thoroughly outplayed by a less-than-stellar Raptors team, in their own building, in a game they just had to have, despite how easily overlooked it might have been on the schedule.
And then, something amazing happened.
The Warriors ended the third quarter on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 18. At that point, you still wouldn’t have bet on them to make it all the way back, but the little run offered a spark, a little belief, that yea, it could be possible. That spark ignited into a full-on inferno in the fourth quarter, where the Warriors not only completely ran away with the game, but accomplished so much more than just a comeback victory.
The Dubs needed this game. Not just because it was at home against a team they should beat. Not just because they’re an injury-riddled squad in the middle of a tough extended road stretch. No, they needed this one because they needed a galvanizing experience, something that put a stamp on this team and this season as one that is and will continue to be, special.
The Warriors entered the season with unprecedented expectations, and although they’ve played impressively in stints, there has been some “magic” missing. It’s as if the team hasn’t been entirely sure how to act like one that could, and probably should, be considered amongst the best in the NBA. But this comeback, this was the realization. When that fourth quarter started, and the run went on and on, it was the Warriors accepting the challenge. Accepting the expectations, and announcing rather loudly, that they were, or should I say are, up to the task.
That’s the interesting part though. That galvanizing moment, the one that will continue to serve as a reminder of how good this team can be, could only come about at the team’s lowest point. It was as if they needed to hit bottom in order to understand who they truly are. There’s no doubt that Mark Jackson would prefer that his squad never put itself in that position again, but he’s not complaining about the result, claiming that “there has not been a bigger win” in his coaching tenure in his postgame media session. But really, no one said it better than Jermaine O’Neal, who’s been credited with reviving the team at halftime with a speech that none of them will soon forget:
“I told the team at the half, we’re going to see what we’re made of these next 24 minutes… if we’re talking about doing something special–if we’re talking about being a playoff team, being 8th, 7th, 6th seed, then whatever that was, that’s good enough…
But if we’re talking about winning a championship, then we need to bring it every single night, dispose of the teams we’re supposed to dispose of and then grind like hell against the teams that are top-echelon-type teams.”
Those are the words of a man who’s seen all the ups and downs one might encounter in an 18-year professional career. O’Neal has been on some great teams, as well as some bad ones, and if there’s anyone that knows how critical this comeback was and will continue to be, it’s him. And he didn’t just do it with his words either. O’Neal was spectacular down the stretch, scoring four points and hauling in six rebounds while playing the entire fourth quarter. He understood the importance of the moment, and helped lead the Warriors to what very well could be a season-defining win.
The Warriors finished the game on a 64-28 run, including a 42-15 thrashing in the fourth. Read those numbers again. That just isn’t supposed to happen in the NBA. But as we’ve been coming to know more and more, and now simply cannot deny, this Warriors team isn’t bound by the same conventional restrictions that most NBA teams are subject to. They’ve got an incredible mix of talent and experience, with just enough fireworks to always make you question if we’ve yet to see their best. I mean, 42-15? 64-28? Who does that?
If there wasn’t an answer to that question a day ago, there is now. We know the Warriors have the chance to be great, but without moments like these, we’d never know if they have the wherewithal to truly be capable of going all the way, as O’Neal alluded to. Say what you will about the Raptors, or the fact that they shouldn’t have been down by 27 in the first place, but this game was about so much more than the circumstances.
This was about the future, the season ahead, and the Warriors finally acknowledging that if they can manage to get out of their own way, there may not be much else stopping them.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Golden State Warriors.