NEW ORLEANS — After many of his teammates were dressed and walking to the bus outside New Orleans Arena, Jermaine O'Neal sat in the visitors' locker room, still in uniform, with large packs of ice wrapped around his legs and a slight smile on his face.
With the short-handed Warriors needing help from someone — anyone — to stop a three-game skid, O'Neal returned from right knee and groin injuries that had sidelined him for four games and put up season highs with 18 points and eight rebounds. It was just enough to help lift Golden State to a 102-101 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.
“I had a rough six or seven days, hadn't been able to practice, had a viral infection, the groin injury, the knee injury, and I just felt like sometimes when your back is against the wall you just go out there and have fun, enjoy it,” the 17-year pro said. “I prayed about it and just went out there and did what I've been doing for so many years, just playing the game.”
O'Neal made his first seven shots and finished 9 of 12 from the field, including the Warriors' final basket on a baseline hook that made it 102-99 with about 2 minutes left.
Eric Gordon had a chance to win it for New Orleans with an open 3-pointer from the left corner in the final seconds, but the shot rimmed out as the crowd, which was on its feet, started to cheer and then suddenly groaned.
Anthony Davis couldn't quite reach the rebound, and Stephen Curry, who had left Gordon alone to offer help defense on Jrue Holiday's drive moments earlier, might have been the most relieved player on the court after watching Holiday instead zip a pass to the corner.
“I'm sure they'd knock that shot down nine out of 10 times,” Curry said. “Thankfully, this is the only time he missed it.”
Pelicans coach Monty Williams expressed considerably less gratitude.
“Eric gets a wide-open look, and it goes down and comes out,” he said. “This game is cruel. It's a cruel game.”