That was an exhausting, emotional game last night.
Possibly the worst and best I've seen #Warriors play. What a game.
— Drew Morita (@drewmorita) December 4, 2013
After the first half of the Golden State Warriors' game last night, I was just starting to go through my mental notes about where it stood among the worst games this season.
The only performance I could think of to match it in recent memory - as in, since the renaissance in which they've established themselves as a playoff team - was an ugly loss to the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls last year in which they were down by 36 points at Oracle Arena early in the fourth quarter before the deficit dwindled down to a more digestible 113-95 final score. And my friend and I are still unsure to this day whether we were actually in Oakland or transported to some alternate universe where Oracle was relocated to Chicago as the fans seemed to be cheering on the Bulls for most of that game.
It was a nightmare. And the first half of last night's game rivaled that debacle in large part because it looked like the Warriors simply weren't even going to even show up.
The Warriors were down 17 points at halftime last night to a Toronto Raptors team that had no business being on their way to a rout - at least in the Bulls game they were only down by 10 at halftime. Ric Bucher reported after the first quarter that Stephen Curry had called it an embarrassing performance, which was accurate. They couldn't seem to be bothered to play a lick of defense, whether in the half court or transition - there's simply no excuse for professionals to leave Steve Novak, who has made two field goals inside the arc all season, open for three 3-point shots.
Toronto: "... guys, if we lose this game, Boston's leading the division." "... UNLEASH HELL FOR THE GOOD OF ALL MANKIND."
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 4, 2013
For a team that supposedly fancies themselves a playoff team, there was every reason to doubt their mettle - this wasn't the first time we've seen an ugly performance from this team, but it was by far the worst at home and came against a team that had no business being within two possessions of them, let alone up 17. What kept going through my mind is that this Warriors team is a team that plays to the level of their opponents, whether that be in a positive or negative direction, and that type of team has no hope of lasting long in the playoffs.
Then the second half happened. Or really, the fourth quarter - I spent most of the third cleaning up the profanity I was about to post. Or really, maybe a Jermaine O'Neal halftime speech, as documented well after the game (h/t richstyle for the fanshot).
Warriors ended the game on a 64-28 run to earn the largest comeback in the NBA this season (27 points)
— GSWStats (@gswstats) December 4, 2013
The stats do tell a story to this game: the Warriors unleashed a flurry of efficiency on the Raptors, eschewing the mid-range for high-percentage shots at the rim and from beyond the arc. They shot a ridiculous 8-for-11 from the 3-point line as part of a 42-point fourth quarter because, really, that's what you have to do to come back from down 27 points - you have Steph Curry and they don't, which is your biggest advantage at that point.
But setting the analytics tell us, that game was fundamentally about emotion - you could see it on the faces of the Raptors players last night. At some point, they just knew - knew that they had no business being up that much, that they hadn't distanced themselves enough from the outcome that everyone expected and festered somewhere in the back of their minds while DeMar Derozan, Amir Johnson, and Kyle Lowry were out there looking like All-Stars. And the Warriors started to get their swagger back as they slowly chipped away at the lead to get within 18 at the end of the third quarter.
If you've played basketball before, you probably understand that there simply aren't any easy explanations for what we witnessed last night. There's a reason last night's game is tied for the 7th largest comeback ever: they're hard to pull off, for mathematical and emotional reasons. I will say that it feels like there's little coincidence that Mark Jackson - who joked that he's merely a "spiritual advisor" after that game - was at the helm of a team that did pull that off. But I think what's more important is what we might have learned from this team.
The poll was close last night, but from all accounts that second half turnaround would not have happened without Jermaine O'Neal. And I'm going to conclude on his words (via Tim Kawakami) because I think he summarized all my emotions during the game and what I took away from it as I reflect on it now.
...you could 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… so every game is a character-builder for us.
So if we're going to be as good as we think we should be, which I think we can be really good, then games like this, we can't have first halves like that. There's going to be times when we get down 8, 10 points and we make a run.
But you can't get down 30. That's unacceptable. And hopefully we learn from that.
One thing I do like about this team... I don't know if you guys have ever been to, like, a forest camp, where guys sit around the camp and they listen and they absorb the stories, the absorb whatever the leadership is... and they come out and they respond.
And for the most part this team does that. I'm very proud of these guys.... but it's still a work in progress.
Some of that stuff sounds really campy (pun intended), as do many of the cliches that come out of the mouths of coaches and athletes. But sometimes that's what it comes down to - guys have to respond and rise to the occasion. We saw this team do that last night. On other hand, we probably never should've had to witness that and hope that they've learned this lesson and moved on, which makes it a rather awkward moment to try to memorialize.