OAKLAND, Calif. — Jermaine O’Neal admits his unusual free-throw form began as a gimmick, a ploy to get an opponent to jump into the key early, thus earning the big man an additional shot.
The Golden State center got Brooklyn veteran Andrei Kirilenko to fall for the trick at a critical point on Saturday night and then used the bonus foul shot to ignite a 7-0 finish that vaulted the Warriors into a hard-fought 93-86 win.
O’Neal sandwiched Kirilenko’s gaffe with two made free throws to break a tie with 1:23 to play and point guard Stephen Curry banked in a back-breaking 3-pointer with 37.2 seconds left, sending the Warriors to a third consecutive victory.
“It’s a hitch,” O’Neal said of an intentional hesitation that delays each of his free throws by about a second and often catches unsuspecting foes off-guard. “I started doing it three years ago trying to get the other guys to jump in early.
“I do it all the time now. I’m very confident I’m going to make them.”
O’Neal did make two of three with 1:36 remaining to give the Warriors a lead they never relinquished. Golden State gained a measure of revenge after losing 102-98 in Brooklyn on Jan. 8 while improving to 12 games above .500 for first time since finishing last season at 47-35.
“At the free throw line, you can’t be afraid of the moment,” insisted O’Neal, who is one of the Warriors’ best foul shooters at 78 percent. “I’ve been around a long time. I’ve been in that situation before.”
The Nets had a chance to take the lead after O’Neal’s free throws, but on a night when the club missed 19 of its 21 3-point attempts, shooting guard Joe Johnson misfired from beyond the arc.
Reserve center Andray Blatche tracked down the rebound, but Johnson threw the ball away with 51.6 seconds left, setting up Curry’s 3 that provided Golden State a much-needed cushion.
“No comment,” Curry said with a smirk when asked if he meant to bank in the 23-footer from the left side. “My momentum was taking me to the left, so I tried to hold my follow-through.
“I tell everybody, ‘Hold your follow-through and you never know what’s going to happen.'”
The Nets did not score in the final 1:36.
O’Neal’s free throws capped a 23-point, 13-rebound double-double, his first for the Warriors. Both totals were season highs.
Power forward Draymond Green, like O’Neal thrust into a starting role with both Warriors starting big men (Andrew Bogut and David Lee) out of the lineup, had a second Golden State double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Curry added 17 points.
“That’s what this team is about — guys stepping up and responding,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said of his injury replacements. “We needed big energy and big effort in this big game from both Jermaine and Draymond, and those guys responded. Really proud of them.”
Down 66-55 with 3:09 remaining in the third quarter, the Nets got their first 3-pointer of the game — by reserve guard Alan Anderson — in a 9-2 run that closed the quarter and narrowed the gap to four. Brooklyn had missed its first 11 from beyond the arc.
When Blatche opened the fourth quarter with an interior hoop, the Nets were within 68-66.
Brooklyn then misfired on four subsequent 3-point attempts with a chance to tie or take the lead before Johnson dropped in a 17-footer to get the Nets even at 84 with 2:23 to play.
Point guard Deron Williams led the Nets (25-28) with 20 points. Johnson chipped in with 15, Blatche 14 and small forward Paul Pierce 11 for Brooklyn, which was playing for the third time on a seven-game trip.
“Our defense was playing extremely well, giving us a chance to win even though we didn’t shoot the ball extremely well behind the arc,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “It was a game until the last minute. On the road against a good team like Golden State, that’s all you can ask for.”
The Nets also hurt themselves with 16 turnovers, which turned into 18 Warriors points.
“It was definitely a winnable game,” Williams insisted. “We kind of beat ourselves.”
NOTES: C Jermaine O’Neal, 35, became the oldest Warrior with a 20-point, 10-rebound game since Terry Cummings accomplished the feat as a 37-year-old in 1999. … Warriors PF Draymond Green was uninjured in a car accident on his way to the game. “More than a fender-bender,” he noted. … The Warriors announced before the game that C Andrew Bogut would accompany the team on its six-game Eastern swing that tips off Monday in Detroit, with an eye on returning to the lineup during the 10-day trip. Bogut has missed the last seven games with inflammation in his left shoulder. … Warriors PF David Lee, who missed Saturday’s game with stomach flu, had scored at least 20 points in each of his last four meetings with the Nets. … SG Marcus Thornton, acquired Wednesday in a trade with Sacramento, was unable to make his Nets debut because of food poisoning. He remains a possibility for Sunday’s game in Los Angeles against the Lakers. … The Nets were without SG Shaun Livingston in the second half after he suffered a bruised tailbone in the first quarter.
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