OAKLAND — The Warriors transformed what would have been their worst, ugliest, flattest defeat of the season Tuesday into one of their most inspiring, scintillating comeback victories in many a year.
Would you believe 51 years, in fact? With 9:20 to go in the third quarter against the Toronto Raptors, the Warriors trailed by 27 points and were still behind by 18 entering the fourth quarter.
But behind the sharpshooting of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, a relentless defensive effort down the stretch and an Oracle Arena that sat on its hands for three quarters, then stood on its feet for almost all of the fourth, Golden State rallied for a miraculous 112-103 victory.
It was a firestorm of a final 12 minutes for Golden State — 42-15. And it was historic. It was the largest deficit to start a fourth period the Warriors had overcome since Feb. 19, 1962, at Boston. Toronto, meanwhile, had never lost a lead as large as 27 in its franchise history. It was also the seventh-largest comeback in NBA history.
Numbers told only part of the story of what it meant, however.
“This being my third year here, there has not been a bigger win when you talk about statement,” said coach Mark Jackson. “We had every right to fold the tent and say, `Let's look forward to the next one.' ”
After halftime, during which veteran Jermaine O'Neal gave a fire-and-brimstone speech about not giving up, the Warriors were slow to start but then started to make some run attempts that the Raptors temporarily withstood.
But then Thompson and Curry found the range and it began to rain 3-pointers. Thompson nailed one at the outset of the fourth period to cut it to 15, and the team and the crowd suddenly seemed to sense something dramatic was about to happen. The surge was on.
“It shows what we're capable of, it shows that we're never out of it,” said Thompson. “We were down 27, right? That's crazy to even think about.”
Jackson didn't blame the Oracle crowd for being unusually sedate through the first three quarters.
“The crowd got quiet, and they were supposed to,” the coach said. “We deserved for them to be quiet.”
O'Neal, who provided 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench, was even more pointed.
“Ridiculous,” he said. “We should have given our fans their money back after that first half of basketball. We should be ashamed with the way we played.”
While Jackson purposely kept silent, an incensed O'Neal challenged the players in the halftime locker room to “show what we're made of” in the second half. With these kinds of results, the 17-year center-forward could be delivering a lot more sermons.
“We were all talking about it when we got in here, this was going to be a dark evening and a worse day tomorrow,” said David Lee, who scored 18 points. “I'm just really proud of the team for coming back. This will be a victory that we remember.”
Indeed, the victory was much-needed because it was the lone home game sandwiched between a pair of three-game trips.
As far down as they were, though, the Warriors seemed to sense this Toronto team wasn't capable of finishing the game it dominated for the much of the first three quarters. Once the Warriors got it under 10 points at 94-86 on a Lee layup with 7:55 left, the comeback almost seemed inevitable as long as the club didn't run out of steam.
Curry and Thompson, off the mark early — Curry even shot an air ball at one point — were brilliant in the fourth. They had just a combined 11 points at the half, with just one 3-point basket. But they found the range after intermission. Curry finished with 27 points and Thompson 22, and they combined for eight three-point baskets in the second half.
The Raptors came in as the leaders of the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division, but their record was 6-10. What's more, Toronto's recent history playing in Oakland — eight straight losses dating to 2004 — certainly didn't portend what was looking to be a lopsided result in their favor. But once the Warriors started their run, it all fell apart.
A disastrous first quarter put the Warriors in catch-up mode for most of the rest of the game. With the score tied at 14, Toronto went on a 22-5 blitz to finish the period and led 36-19 after the first 12 minutes.