Superman has his phone booth, Popeye his spinach and Ali had his rope-a-dope. The greats often have a secret weapon to be unleashed upon opponents who dare pose a threat.
The Warriors of the NBA have the third quarter.
Twelve masterful minutes, customarily the third quarter, is all they need to turn all anxieties to swagger and perspiration into perfume.
It was, on cue, the third quarter that doomed the temporarily uppity Magic in a 118-98 victory on Sunday at Amway Center in Orlando.
Tied 50-50 and down five (55-50) 90 seconds into the third quarter, the Warriors went on a 19-2 tear to go up 12 with 6:54 left. Orlando, which had been encouraged by outplaying the Warriors for the first 25-plus minutes, was powerless to prevent the onslaught.
“We found our energy and execution and stopped turning the ball over,” Stephen Curry, who scored a game-high 27 points, including 7-of-13 shooting from deep, told reporters in Florida. “And after that, we got stops and our talent plays over on the offensive end. It is nice to see shots going in obviously, but you have to get stops and take care of the basketball to get that done.”
The Warriors (38-6) shot 41.9 percent for the field and committed 12 turnovers in the first half, leading to 13 Magic points. Only one Orlando starter, point guard Elfrid Payton, shot less than 50 percent and he was 3-of-8.
So the Warriors, whose sloppy first half could be attributed to the usually early start (9 a.m. Pacific), reached for the prescription that best cures their every ailment. They turned to ferocious defense, which generated torrential offense. They outscored the Magic 42-24 in the third quarter, pretty much putting away the game.
“For whatever reason, we’ve had a bunch really good third quarters in the last couple of weeks,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It seems to be the time when we pick up our defense and it translates into some transition hoops and 3-pointers. I don’t know why, but that seems to be the key time for us these days.”
The third-quarter blitzes are more than a trend. It’s becoming an almost predictable act of magic.
The Warriors have outscored opponents in the third in 17 of their last 19 games -- with the margin double digits on nine of those occasions. In seven of those 17 games, they were tied or trailing at the half. They lost only two of those games, to the Cavs and the Grizzlies, to both of whom they blew sizable fourth-quarter leads.
Furthermore, the Warriors’ plus-268 points differential in the third quarter is by far the best in the NBA.
It was, indeed, the third quarter that shook them from the stupor of those early Sunday wakeup calls.
“There was no morning,” Draymond Green said. “It was wake up, grab some food, put on some sweats, and get out of there. I think my bus was 9:30 a.m. That’s 6:30 a.m. West Coast time . . . it was brutal.”
Must be nice to know that even on brutal days, and even after a throwaway first half, they can usually find enough lightning in the third quarter to find victory.