Inside the Paint: Jermaine O'Neal's vintage performance
In his first start of the season, Jermaine O'Neal turned in his finest game, collecting an efficient 18 points and eight rebounds. (USATSI)
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The death of the Warriors' three-game losing streak took the team and its fans through several stages of anxiety before, at last, there was relief.
The surprise was who provided the relief: Jermaine O'Neal.
The oldest man on the roster, the center that couldn't find the basket the first two weeks of the season and the player who responded to a four-game injury layoff with his best game this season -- by far.
In the starting lineup for the first time this season, and only because Andrew Bogut was serving a one-game suspension, O'Neal submitted 18 points and eight rebounds as the Warriors won their first game in a week, defeating the Pelicans 102-101 on Tuesday night at New Orleans Arena.
[RECAP: Warriors 102, Pelicans 101]
"Just what the doctor ordered for us," coach Mark Jackson said.
O'Neal had not played since Nov. 16, when he took an awkward fall at Oracle Arena, bruising his right knee and straining his right groin. It wasn't until an hour before tipoff that Jackson decided to put him in the starting lineup.
"He came ready,"Jackson said. "We missed 'Bogs' but Jermaine did an outstanding job of carrying us at times and playing huge."
O'Neal started fast, making all six of his first-half shots. He finished with 9-of-12 shooting, including the Warriors' final basket, with 2:12 left. It was quite a catharsis for O'Neal, who struggled mightily at the start of the season.
"I've had some horrific shooting games," O'Neal conceded. "A lot of times in the third or fourth, when we needed a basket, (Jackson) calls a play. That shows the confidence he has in me. It shows the confidence he has in this team."
The timing of O'Neal's best game could not have been better. The team has been battling injuries up and down the roster. It had lost three in a row, finishing poorly each time. And, oh yeah, Bogut -- who started the first 14 games at center -- was watching from his hotel room.
With O'Neal leading, others followed. Klay Thompson had a nice all-around effort, with a game-high 22 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Backup forward Draymond Green supplied energy and production off the bench.
And yet it all would have been for naught if Pelicans guard Eric Gordon's potential game-winning shot doesn't fall off the rim in the final seconds.
"We needed it," Jackson said of the victory. "When you lose three in a row, when you're struggling, the way to stop the bleeding is not going to be a 30-point blowout.''
THE GOOD: Though O'Neal clearly was the MVP of the game, the contributions of Green should not be overlooked. He came off the bench to fill out the stat sheet: seven points, three assists, three steals, three blocks and two rebounds.
The Warriors forced 16 New Orleans turnovers, off which they scored 21 points.
THE BAD: Not much to pick apart here, unless you want to fault Curry's 7-for-20 shooting from the field.
THE FUTURE: The Warriors (9-6) flew directly to Dallas, where on Wednesday night they face the Mavericks at American Airlines Center. The Mavericks (9-6) are led by star forward Dirk Nowitzki and former Warriors guard Monta Ellis.