It's a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme, and a truism that every shot-blocker knows. Committing to protecting the rim means that sometimes, you're going to get yammed on, as Jermaine O'Neal was by counterpart Dwight Howard midway through the fourth quarter of Thursday's late-night matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets:
But being about that rim-protecting life also means having both a short memory for embarrassment and a willingness to step back in the arena mere moments later, as the former All-Star did in emphatically turning away a potential game-sealing slam by Rockets swingman Chandler Parsons late in overtime:
O'Neal's crisp, clean, at-the-peak rejection of Parsons' baseline drive preserved a one-point Warriors lead with less than 22 seconds remaining in OT, turning the balance of the extra session largely into a free-throw-shooting contest, which Golden State won. The 102-99 victory snapped Houston's eight-game winning streak, moved the Warriors ahead of the Dallas Mavericks into seventh place in the Western Conference playoff chase, and cut the Rockets' lead over the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 3 seed out West to just a half-game.
O'Neal wasn't the biggest determining factor in the win, of course — for that, I'd like to direct you to Stephen Curry's monster OT-forcing floater, seven-point OT takeover and overall 25-point, six-assist, two-turnover performance, as well as David Lee's 28-and-14 against the Houston front line — but he filled in admirably for injured starting center Andrew Bogut, grabbing 10 rebounds (including five on the offensive glass) and notching one of his two blocks at precisely the right time. From Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:
"That's a guy with a million miles on his body, on the back nine of his career, but he's a true professional," [Warriors head coach Mark] Jackson said of O'Neal, who limited Howard to 4-of-13 shooting from the floor. "We are fortunate to have him — the way he conducts himself, the way he takes pride — and he deserved this night. It was a great win."
And as Adam Lauridsen of the San Jose Mercury News notes, while O'Neal's big finale makes the highlight reels, his subtler earlier efforts merited praise, too:
Jermaine O’Neal was the hero of the moment with his overtime block, but all the work O’Neal put in on Howard earlier in the night was just as significant. In Andrew Bogut’s absence, the Rockets should have had a major size advantage and an opportunity to exploit the Warriors for high percentage looks. But instead of pounding it inside, the Rockets retreated to the perimeter to jump shoot the game away. They met the Warriors at their strength rather than their weakness. The few times they did try to force feed Howard, O’Neal played excellent, physical, crafty defense. What it lacked in legality, it made up for in efficacy.
And at just the right time, O'Neal's quieter work was rewarded by the loudest defensive play of the game. Go 'head and keep mean-mugging, Jermaine. You earned it.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, feel free to check it out elsewhere, thanks to the NBA.
- - - - - - -