The Golden State Warriors took the floor against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday without their top offseason acquisition, Andre Iguodala. What ensued during the next 48 minutes showed off the importance of their less heralded offseason acquisition, Jermaine O'Neal.
The Warriors were down 18 points at the end of the first three quarters. They found a way to win 112-103. O'Neal's defense and rebounding were crucial during the fourth-quarter comeback.
Marcus Thompson of the San Jose Mercury News provided a great description of O'Neal's fourth-quarter heroics:
The Warriors outrebounded the Raptors 14-1 in the fourth quarter, O'Neal had six of those boards. After the home team cut the lead to single digits, O'Neal kept it there with a clutch block on Amir Johnson's put-back at the 7:00 mark.
O'Neal played all but the final 17 seconds of the fourth quarter. The Raptors managed just 5 of 16 shooting while he was on the court.
He provides a reliable inside presence that the Warriors were missing last season with the raw Festus Ezeli.
With Andrew Bogut's health always a mystery, it's certainly nice to have a player like O'Neal. If Bogut stays healthy, then the Warriors have a great inside presence for the second unit or in the case of foul trouble.
The 35-year-old center is far from the prime of his career, but his role with the Warriors suits him perfectly. And he showed just how important he is on Tuesday.
While the case can be made that his production won the game for the Warriors, it was his halftime speech that really drew attention.
"One of the realist speeches I ever heard," Klay Thompson told Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com. "And he said we'll see what we're made of in the second half. And we showed what we're made of."
O'Neal rallied the team at halftime, but he's also the voice of reason keeping the team focused on the ultimate goal of an NBA Championship. That's an opportunity O'Neal is making sure the younger Warriors aren't taking for granted.
"You don't get this opportunity very much." O'Neal told Poole. "So we have to do a better job of understanding what's at stake here, because you may not get this opportunity again, to compete for a championship."
O'Neal touched on his expectations in an interview with Bay Area Sports Guy after Tuesday's victory:
Perhaps, the most important asset that O'Neal has isn't shown on the court.
Rotowire suggests that O'Neal has been playing through a left wrist injury. Regardless of the injury, O'Neal's leadership and veteran presence will still be huge pieces to the Warriors' season.
Depending on the injury, O'Neal's production may fluctuate. It's clear that he will continue to battle to play and cherish the opportunity he has.
On Tuesday, he gave the Warriors a much-needed win that has them in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference—a spot the Warriors will certainly improve on if O'Neal continues his solid production and veteran leadership.
"The thing I saw in him was the leadership qualities," Warriors general manager Bob Myers told Bay Area Sports Guy. "The ability to do something like he did tonight, get us a win. The team isn't on his shoulders, but a win or two or five here or there makes a difference. Tonight I think he was a huge part of the victory."
Maybe O'Neal was the most important acquisition after all.