You have to tend to the principal heroes after an epic comeback win like the Warriors delivered Tuesday night against Toronto. There were many. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to start, followed closely by Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green, then Jermaine O’Neal, who could become the Dalai Lama for this club before all is said and done. The man just has a regal presence, a purposeful eloquence, and he’s only here for one purpose — to win a championship. He will be as important to the Warriors off the court as he is on it, as he proved on both counts on this night.
But the guy I wouldn’t have minded talking to after the Warriors rallied from 27 down — 18 down to start the fourth quarter — was the guy at courtside next to owner Joe Lacob. The guy standing, stomping and cheering as the Warriors pulled out a miraculous 112-103 victory over the Raptors.
Phil Hellmuth. Longtime Warriors fan, also arguably the greatest poker player ever. At least the greatest Texas Hold ‘Em player. You have to wonder, does rooting for the Warriors affect how Phil plays his own game? Face it, in poker, you fold this one right out of the chute. After Toronto went on a 22-5 blitz and led 36-19 after one, you don’t even stick around to see the flop. You leave the table, go play a slot machine, have a hi-ball at the bar.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Warriors were still playing with a pair of threes against a Toronto full house. Should have folded. But they didn’t. Instead, they drew eight threes in the final 12 minutes. Thompson had four of a kind by himself from beyond the arc. That has to be worth some sort of bracelet, eh, Phil?
So what does a guy like Hellmuth think about a game like this? Next time at the WSOP, does he go all in trying to hit that middle eight for the inside straight? Does he take the fight with a pair of treys against the dude with the mirrored sunglasses and two kings up? Hey, why not? If the Warriors can do it …
Nah, probably not. Phil still folds. But it’s an intriguing thought, nonetheless. If I’m a poker player, the Warriors throw my game all out of whack. I’m thinking anything’s possible.
Another intriguing thought: What the heck do we make of this Warriors’ win? The first two quarters were just gut-rot awful, but hey, Toronto doesn’t have a bad roster. And the Raptors played out of their gourds for 36 minutes. They’ve also got Rudy Gay, notorious Warrior-killer, who was looking early on like he might go for 40.
But let’s face it, they also were 6-10 coming in. They play in the Leastern Conference. This was supposed to be a walkover game for the W’s, a pit stop at Oracle between two tough three-game roadies to snatch a cheapie. And the Warriors came out flat, disoriented, unprepared for what hit them. The crowd was very much late-arriving, too, and many of the high-priced lower bowl seats were empty the entire night. Believe it, the fans were no more pumped for this game than the team.
Much to their collective credit, both the team and the crowd pulled it together in rousing fashion. The rally was a stupendous thing to watch, both on the court and in the stands. No overbearingly loud electronica required. No dudes springing off boards for somersault dunks needed. No pizzas. This was wild, wonderful NBA hoops without accoutrements, and as intense as it gets in early December.
Obviously, as exciting as it was, you can’t get to where you want to go playing games like this on a consistent basis, particularly at home, even if you win them. Hence, the impact of this victory is still to be determined. But it just might prove to give more stimulus to the Warriors’ season than if they’d just come in and won wire-to-wire. Sometimes, a game like this can be a competitive catapult, a galvanizing moment that launches something truly great for the long term.
For one thing, the Warriors should know they can’t just waltz out on the floor and expect teams to roll over. They’re a target team now, and they have to keep reminding themselves of that. For another, what they accomplished with a 42-15 fourth period speaks volumes, as Thompson said afterward, “about what we’re capable of.” Indeed, if the Warriors could deliver that fourth-quarter effort — and despite all the threes it was really a defensive-inspired comeback — for just 60 percent of the game, well, they’d probably win 60 percent of their games. And that would get them right around 50 wins.
Again, we’ll see what happens when they turn around and go to Houston Friday night. Then Memphis Saturday night. It was a fabulous game to watch, but there will be little time to savor it. Just ask Phil Hellmuth. There’s always the next deal.
(Oh, here was a Hellmuth Tweet after the game: “Love sitting next to Joe Lacob, the most passionate Owner in the NBA! Great fans: GSW down 27 late in 3rd, no one leaves & we win by 8!”)
It was nine, Phil, but who’s card counting?