Jermaine O’Neal’s Play On The Court Is Almost As Important As His Leadership Off Of It

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In his 18th season with his eighth team, Jermaine O’Neal still has a lot left to contribute.
(Photo courtesy of Keith Allison)

by Jay Flaherty

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Last night’s comeback didn’t leave reporters bereft of story lines. There were any number of angles a writer could have chosen: Jermaine O’Neal’s halftime speech is one that got a lot of press, and rightly so. ”There are four quarters to a basketball game,” is one cliché that could have been a nice lead.  One that I strongly considered using was Bob Fitzgerald’s quote with about 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter — “If you’re just tuning in, well, you’ve missed everything.” But instead I’d like to draw attention to another of O’Neal’s contributions last night…the actual game he played.

What may have gotten lost behind O’Neal’s awe-inspiring halftime speech (the gist of which can be found at Bay Area Sports Guy’s site) was that his play, not his words, were what sparked the Warriors in the fourth quarter. O’Neal had five rebounds in the fourth, three of which were offensive. If you’ve taken a look at the Dubs’ shot chart from the fourth quarter last night, you’ll see that we only missed six shots. Of those six misses, O’Neal gobbled up fifty percent of the rebounds. He often did so by diving to the right block, and out-muscling Amir Johnson or Jonas Valanciunas, guys 10 maybe 15 years younger than him.

And those offensive boards were far from his only contribution. He had a couple of nifty, hi-lo passes that got D-Lee easy buckets. Plus he had a monster block on a seemingly wide-open layup — a block that he kept in bounds, no less.

Another unsung hero on the night was Draymond Green. He had a big three pointer (his only bucket of the night) to bring Golden State within 10, and then had a smart drop-off to Thompson for one of his numerous wide-open looks for three in the final period.

The passing was infectious, as everyone on the floor contributed (except for maybe Klay, but is anyone going to fault him for that?). On one play in particular Lee had the ball dumped to him in the post, and could have easily forced it inside to O’Neal, whose man had left him to cover Lee. Instead, though, he saw that the help was collapsing on O’Neal and flipped a cross-court look to Thompson for another clean look at three.

Yesterday I wrote about how important the win over the Kings on Sunday night was. Obviously this win is far more important. It showed a resiliency we haven’t seen before, to come back from 27 down. Whenever the Warriors get down by double digits now, including if and when it happens in the playoffs, they’ll have the knowledge and the experience to say, “Hey, we’ve come back to win from worse. We got this.” More important than that, though, was part of what O’Neal said at halftime:

“The preparation that coach Jackson and his staff puts into this. The fan support that we get in this building every single night. The ownership, the money that they put into this team, you don’t get this. You don’t get this type of opportunity a lot. We have to do a better job of understanding what’s all at stake here. Because you may not get this opportunity again in another year to compete for a championship. I know that firsthand.”

I think I speak for everyone when I say, I love Jermaine O’Neal. Here’s a guy in his 18th season who takes charges, plays through a torn hand ligament, and is preaching to the younger guys that opportunities like this, teams like this one, don’t come around very often. It’s easy to be 22, 23 years old and think, “Hey, we’ll get another shot at a title.” Jermaine O’Neal knows that may not be the case. Sure, getting to the Western Conference semis is all good-and-well, but you need to take advantage of the opportunity you have in front of you and not hope for a better one in the future.

(And seriously, the entire transcript is worth reading at BASG)

Hopefully O’Neal can stay healthy throughout the rest of the season. His presence on the floor is often underestimated; as O’Neal likes to say, “I can’t go for twenty every night, but I can go off for twenty on any given night.” And his veteran presence is invaluable to a team as young as the Dubs. From merely reading part of the transcript of his halftime speech, I gained a deeper appreciation for the team we have brewing in Oakland. I can only imagine what effect he has, day-in and day-out, on a player’s sense of urgency and willingness to work. While his leadership is likely his most valuable attribute, his play this season hasn’t been too shabby either.

Author: James

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