Their first 24 minutes on the court Saturday were much like most of the previous 96, with occasional defense, spells of rebounding apathy, 10 turnovers and one timeout for a few moments of internal soul-searching.
The Warriors looked to be in the fast lane to defeat, to be followed by a quiet ride to the Philadelphia airport for a six-hour flight to contemplate a 1-3 road trip.
But a fire started at halftime when the Warriors went into the visitor’s locker room at Wells Fargo Center trailing the 76ers by 12 points. There was a radical transformation, an attitude adjustment.
The second-half Warriors were the Warriors we’ve seen so often in recent years, Draymond Green turning up his contagious defensive vitality, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins combining for 33 points and Stephen Curry rocking the 76ers to sleep down the stretch.
Can the Warriors bottle what they poured onto the 76ers over the final 24 minutes, wiping out a 14-point deficit and emerging with a 120-117 victory?
“We needed this,” Cousins told ABC. “We’ve kind of been, I guess you could say, in a slump these past couple games, not really playing the right way. But we really came together and took a step forward.”
Trailing Philadelphia 71-57 less than a minute 53 into the third quarter, the Warriors responded with a 16-0 run during which they forced seven missed shots and three turnovers. That lame first half, during which the 76ers shot 53.5 percent from the field, suddenly was a distant memory.
“We were more engaged – not so much in the first half – but in the second half,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We played with more force.”
Though applies to both ends, it began with defense. It always does. When the Warriors defend as if it truly matters, buckets fall out of the sky. The 76ers shot 36.4 percent in the second half. Philly point guard Ben Simmons, who terrorized the Warriors 30 days earlier in Oakland and was destroying them in the first half, was crowded by the likes of Jordan Bell and Green and couldn’t function.
Simmons’ first six quarters against the Warriors this season: 44 points, 17-of-21 shooting, 15 rebounds, nine assists, and six steals.
Simmons in the second half Saturday: 7 points on 3-of-7 shooting, eight assists, eight rebounds – and five turnovers. At minus-22 after halftime, he was the worst 76er on the floor.
And the Warriors, without Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney in this game, coming off back-to-back losses at Miami and Orlando, looked like the best team in the NBA.
“Because of the circumstances, having lost two in a row, being without Klay, without Looney, playing against a great team on the road, definitely one of the best wins of the year,” Kerr said.
The involvement was comprehensive. Durant scored 34 points, Curry 28 and Cousins 25. Two-way wing Damion Lee, pressed into service, drained a career-high four 3-pointers for 12 points off the bench.
Green’s numbers were solid, but it was more noteworthy that after two subpar games in Florida he was the driving force in the second half.
“The last two games have been rough,” Curry said. “Obviously, Miami was down to the wire. Orlando, we played hard and just flamed out at the end. So to finish a road trip with a win without Klay and get on this six-hour flight with smiles on our faces, that means a lot.
“With 20 games or 19 games left, these feel-good kind of games where you just figure out how to win is very kind of playoff-esque. We want to build that kind of mentality and expectation down the stretch of the season.”
The Warriors won because, realizing they were again under siege on national TV, they summoned anger. They played better, but they also played with a certain fury.
“Sometimes you forget how hard it is to win a game in this league because everybody’s got talent,” Kerr said. “I think our guys understood they had to fight their way out of this mini-rut, so it’s a good way to start. Now we have to go home and start a win streak.”
That’s a tough task, with heavyweights Boston and Denver invading Oracle Arena this week.
But if the Warriors concoct the same brew that sent them into a 24-minute rage in Philly, it will be difficult for the Celtics or Nuggets – of anybody else – to keep up.