OAKLAND -- Having played for seven teams over nearly 18 seasons, Jermaine O'Neal gets pensive when pondering what's left of his career. That he sees these as his final NBA days was evident in his extraordinary work Thursday night.
The 35-year-old center scored only two points yet surely earned a share of the MVP honors in the Warriors' 102-99 overtime win over the Rockets.
O'Neal, still recovering from surgery to repair his right wrist, snagged 10 rebounds, blocked two shots and built a cage around imposing Houston big man Dwight Howard, limiting him to 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Moreover, O'Neal soldiered on for 37 minutes -- his longest appearance since April 2011.
"That is a guy (with) a million miles on his body and on the back-9 of his career," coach Mark Jackson. "But he was a true professional. I didn’t want to play him this many minutes but he said ‘I’m going to give you what I have, coach.’ We are fortunate to have him, the way he conducts himself and the way he takes pride. He deserved this night, really deserved it."
[RECAP: Warriors 102, Rockets 99]
O'Neal's single most spectacular moment came in overtime, when he should have been spent.
With the Warriors up 96-95 and 23.8 seconds left, Rockets forward Chandler Parsons drove toward the hoop and took flight for a go-ahead dunk. O'Neal came off Howard, met Parsons at the rim and sent away the attempt. Parsons slinked away. O'Neal stood for a moment and glared.
"Huge play," forward David Lee said. "The block was important but more than that, his defense throughout the entire game on Dwight Howard was incredible. He challenged him for every single play that he made. To take Dwight more or less out of the game made them a little more one dimensional, shooting threes and going to [James] Harden."
Harden got his, ringing up 34 of his game-high 39 points while playing every minute after halftime. But Parsons needed 24 shots to get 21 points. Howard was nearly invisible.
"I was able to bother his shot, get him off the box and make him make some tough moves," O'Neal said. "The thing I was probably happiest about was how we flew around on defense. Late in the game, when we weren't making shots, we got stops."
Both teams played the previous night and both are fighting for postseason position. O'Neal accurately described the game as being "like a heavyweight fight." Nobody looked the part more than Curry, whose layup over Howard sent the game into overtime. He took a fall in the first quarter that resulted in a knot over his left eye.
"Dove for the ball, Dwight tried to close the distance and his shin caught me in the side of the head," he said. "Thankfully, it was just a minor episode and I got back into the game."
That's an understatement. Curry scored 20 of his 25 points after the half. Yet none of his production would have mattered without O'Neal standing guard in the paint.
THE GOOD: O'Neal's work on Howard was stellar and his teammates worked just as hard in holding a very good offensive team to 36.6 percent shooting. Lee's offense, especially early, was a bright spot, and then Curry came along to close it out.
THE BAD: They were hammered on the boards again, not a surprise with Bogut out. They were a bit too stubborn with Lee isolations, mostly on Harden, an average defender. They wanted to make Harden work on D and use Lee's four-inch height advantage, but the tactic failed more often than it succeeded.
THE TAKE: The Warriors still have no answer for Harden -- who scored 34 of Houston's 56 after-halftime points. But facing a season-series sweep against a club that usually torments them, the Warriors found a way to prevail. They have had several particularly gutsy wins, and this was one of them.