A funny thing happened on the way to the all-but-inevitable squash job the Golden State Warriors were sure to lay on the outgunned, outclassed, overmatched and underwhelming Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night: Dwane Casey's team came out on fire, hitting 16 of their first 24 shots and punching the Dubs in the mouth to take a 17-point lead at the end of the first quarter. And after a back-and-forth second quarter in which Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (14 points on 5 for 5 shooting) and Raptors big man Amir Johnson (12 points, seven rebounds) took turns being unstoppable, the Raptors exploded out of their locker rooms to score the first 10 points of the second half and build a stunning 75-48 lead.
Through 26-plus minutes, the scuffling 6-10 Raps, losers of three straight, were absolutely taking Mark Jackson's squad to school. But a funny thing happened on the way to homeroom ...
After more than two quarters of sleepwalking, the Warriors woke up, and that's when the Raptors' nightmare began. Over the final 21 minutes and 20 seconds of Tuesday's game, Golden State outscored Toronto 64-28, shooting 56.8 percent from the floor and completely overwhelming a Toronto team that seemed to have absolutely no idea how to protect itself from the force of nature battering it.
The Warriors exploded in the fourth quarter, with Stephen Curry penetrating, kicking and bombing, and Klay Thompson going into a trance from beyond the arc; Golden State shot 68.4 percent from the field in the fourth, including an 8 for 11 mark from 3, en route to a 42-15 quarter that decimated the Raptors and gave the Warriors a 112-103 home win before a raucous Oracle Arena crowd.
It started, as most things Golden State-y do, with Curry heating up. He strung together a quick series of shots, pairing a slick crossover with a nifty banker, then bombing a step-back 3 and finishing this high-arcing teardrop for an and-one:
But the Raptors responded, getting buckets from Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan to keep the lead at 18 heading into the fourth. From there, though, the floodgates opened.
David Lee started the fourth by attacking the basket, drawing attention leading to points for others (a late-shot-clock corner 3 by Thompson, an easy dunk for Jermaine O'Neal) or himself (a pair of free throws drawn on a toss-up blocking foul called on Raptors guard Julyan Stone). O'Neal continued his surprisingly strong play, holding the Raptors to one possession by clearing the defensive boards and working on the offensive glass to extend Golden State trips to cut into the lead. Curry looked for his teammates rather than himself, pushing the pace and finding open shooters with hellacious looks like this brilliant lefty cross-court bullet to Thompson:
... and Thompson, given a steady diet of open looks, continued his scorching shooting, going 4 for 5 from 3-point land in the fourth. He now leads the NBA in 3-pointers made and attempted, and is hitting them at an absurd 47.5 percent clip (10th best in the NBA), which is basically unfair alongside Curry (second in makes, third in attempts, 44.3 percent). The pull-ups and bombs continued unabated, and when it came time to complete the comeback and shut the door, the Warriors put the game in the hands of their star point guard, and he delivered:
To be fair, the Raptors did their share to maximize the damage. As CBSSports.com's Zach Harper noted in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, a slew of communication and coverage breakdowns helped Thompson and Curry find all those openings. And while credit is due to Draymond Green, who defended Gay admirably in the fourth quarter, and O'Neal, who locked down the paint on a night where Andrew Bogut seemed a step slow, the Raptors' repeated offensive failures — an absence of off-ball movement, too much holding until late in the shot clock, too many bailout hand-in-the-face tries from midrange and in the non-restricted-area paint, etc. — kept them from even approximating matching the Warriors' output en route to setting a grim bit of franchise history:
27 is the biggest blown lead in Raptors franchise history, which let me tell you is saying something. — Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) December 4, 2013
Then again, it's tough to win a firefight when the other guys are brandishing bazookas:
In the 4th quarter, the Warriors’ offensive rating was 207. Two Hundred and Seven. Over two points per possession... — Kevin Draper (@kevinmdraper) December 4, 2013
... and especially when they've got an extra bit of fire in their bellies following a halftime wake-up call from a long-tenured veteran. From CSN Bay Area's Monte Poole:
"Jermaine did a lot of the talking," coach Mark Jackson said, adding that he merely performed the group finish.
"J. O. preached at halftime," said Curry, who then shared the point of the sermon.
"We had to show some resolve as a team," he said. "We had some success last year, but that doesn't mean anything this year. Teams are going to be gunning for us, so for us to have a first half like we did was very embarrassing and disappointing. To come back like we did, is a strong testament to where we're headed as a team."
In a postgame interview, Thompson called O'Neal's halftime remarks "one of the realest speeches I ever heard," begging the question: what did Jermaine actually say? He shared, or at least paraphrased, with reporters after the game, as transcribed by Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News:
Q: Was the response to your half-time spiel quiet? Was it loud?
O’NEAL: It wasn’t quiet. You couldn’t hear the fire popping off the wood. But sometimes you need that, you need the shock. And I’m not one of those guys where I just get to yelling and screaming and have no angle to it.
This is real. A lot of people put a lot of time and effort to this — the preparation of coach Jackson and his staff, 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 opportunity a lot.
So we had better do a better job of understanding of 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 first hand.
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 and confetti and that’s something I’ve dreamed about.
So it ain’t given that we’re going to be given another opportunity because we’re young. No, anything could happen — trades, injuries, whatever it may be.
If we’ve got an opportunity we’ve got to take full advantage of that, because we are built for it. We have the crowd, we have the support from our coach and the staff and our ownership. That’s the perfect combination, so now it’s up to us.
Fueled by O'Neal's "carpe diem" message, the Warriors swept away the Raptors in epic fashion to improve to 11-8 on the season and 6-2 at Oracle. Curry finished with 27 points on 8 for 15 shooting, 10 assists, five steals, three rebounds and a block in 43 1/2 minutes. Thompson added 22 points and seven assists, and Lee (18 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) and O'Neal (11 points and eight boards off the bench) gave Jackson good minutes inside.
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