By Erik Malinowski
If you were going to recap a basketball game with nothing but fire emojis, this would be the game. If you were going to look back on a (as yet still hypothetical) 2014-15 Golden State Warriors championship and say, "That was the moment I knew," look no further. If any sporting contest should've come with a warning label: "Please ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for watching sports," it would have been Game 3 of the first round series between the Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Warriors' historic 20-point comeback to force overtime and send a New Orleans crowd of 18,000 home looking stunned into submission after capping off a 123-119 win will not be forgotten by a soul who witnessed it. At around the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter, the Pelicans led 101-84. The Warriors outscored them 24-7 until the end of regulation. Golden State handled business with relative ease in OT, and now all that's left of the Pelicans are broken dreams and second (and third) guesses as to what went wrong.
Through the first 42 minutes of the game, the Pelicans looked like an enhanced version of the New Orleans we saw in Game 1 and 2. In those contests at Oracle Arena, the inexperience showed, but so did the true talent. In the opener, the Warriors let Anthony Davis be his best self and tried to neutralize all others -- and the plan worked. Golden State followed that game up with a ferocious defensive stand that was ultimately more adept at keeping Davis in check and relied on the raw emotion of 20,000 strong to help push to the end of a 10-point win. In Game 3, the Pelicans used their own home crowd, Davis and a rejuvenated Ryan Anderson (26 points) to great gains and subsequently enlarged an 11-point halftime lead to 20 by the end of the third.
At this point, a disclaimer: The Warriors had never won a basketball game in the shot-clock era in which they were losing by 20 or more entering the fourth quarter. That would be 358 losses in 358 games. So when we look back now and try to rationalize something so irrational as the Warriors actually winning this game, just know we are walking into the unknown.
Also, when talking about this game, the defining moment, now and forever, will be Steph Curry attempting a game-tying three with eight seconds to go, Marreese Speights grabbing the biggest offensive rebound of his seven-year NBA career with six seconds, passing it back to Curry with five seconds, and Curry taking another long shot with less than four seconds on the clock, this time as two Pelicans come collapsing onto his flailing and crumpled body. It is the kind of last-minute shot that every young basketball player dreams of, against all odds and probability. And the shot went in, just like we always think it will.
The win probability chart from this game is a thing of frightening beauty. It should be studied. Dissertations should result from it. Great power lies somewhere in this beast, I'm sure of it.
Maybe one day we'll be able to better understand exactly what happened on this unnerving New Orleans night. For now, the memory that it even happened at all will have to suffice.
Erik Malinowski is a freelance writer in the Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @erikmal