After many of his teammates were dressed and walking to the bus outside New Orleans Arena, Jermaine O'Neal sat in the visitors' locker room, still in uniform, with large packs of ice wrapped around his legs and a slight smile on his face.
With the short-handed Warriors needing help from someone — anyone — to stop a three-game skid, O'Neal returned from right knee and groin injuries that had sidelined him for four games and put up season highs with 18 points and eight rebounds. It was just enough to help lift Golden State to a 102-101 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.
"I had a rough six or seven days, hadn't been able to practice, had a viral infection, the groin injury, the knee injury, and I just felt like sometimes when your back is against the wall you just go out there and have fun, enjoy it," the 17-year pro said. "I prayed about it and just went out there and did what I've been doing for so many years, just playing the game."
O'Neal made his first seven shots and finished 9 of 12 from the field, including the Warriors' final basket on a baseline hook that made it 102-99 with about 2 minutes left.
Eric Gordon had a chance to win it for New Orleans with an open 3-pointer from the left corner in the final seconds, but the shot rimmed out as the crowd, which was on its feet, started to cheer and then suddenly groaned.
Anthony Davis couldn't quite reach the rebound, and Stephen Curry, who had left Gordon alone to offer help defense on Jrue Holiday's drive moments earlier, might have been the most relieved player on the court after watching Holiday instead zip a pass to the corner.
"I'm sure they'd knock that shot down nine out of 10 times," Curry said. "Thankfully, this is the only time he missed it."
Pelicans coach Monty Williams expressed considerably less gratitude.
"Eric gets a wide-open look, and it goes down and comes out," he said. "This game is cruel. It's a cruel game."
Klay Thompson scored 22 points and tied a career high with eight assists for the Warriors, who were without suspended center Andrew Bogut, as well as several injured players, including swing man Andre Iguodala (strained left hamstring) and guard Toney Douglass (stress reaction, left tibia).
David Lee scored 19 points, capped by two big free throws with 2:34 left.
Curry struggled to find his usual accuracy, missing 13 of 20 shots, but scored seven of his 16 points in a tight fourth quarter for Golden State. Harrison Barnes added 14 points.
"These games are character builders for us because we're trying to do something special," O'Neal said. "Not every game is going to be easy for us. We're going to have nights like tonight where guys like myself are going to have to step up."
Ryan Anderson had 21 points and 12 rebounds for New Orleans. Davis finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
New Orleans appeared to be seizing momentum when Davis' dunk on a pick-and-roll feed from Tyreke Evans tied it at 93.
Golden State called a timeout and responded with O'Neal's 11-foot turnaround jumper and Thompson's 3.
Holiday, who had 17 points, responded with a 3 and the Pelicans eventually pulled to 100-99 when Davis tipped in an alley-oop pass as he was fouled by Curry.
After O'Neal scored the go-ahead basket, Davis once again pulled the Pelicans within a point with his vigorous, one-handed putback jam of Evans' miss. Then each club missed its final shot, leaving New Orleans just short of overcoming what had been a 15-point deficit in the second quarter.
Gordon finished with 16 points for the Pelicans, who have lost two straight. Jason Smith had 14 points and Evans 12.
"We have a lot of heart," Holiday said. "That hurt, though."
After being deemed fit in pregame warmups, O'Neal quickly converted a driving dunk, a layup and a turnaround jumper from 9 feet.
Late in the opening quarter, Curry hit a layup and a 15-foot jumper in succession, sparking an 11-0 run that Marreese Speights capped with a tip-in to give Golden State a 28-18 lead at the end of the period. The advantage grew to 45-30 on Thompson's 3 before New Orleans, which shot below 40 percent much of the first half, trimmed it to 57-49 at halftime.
NOTES: Golden State's Draymond Green had a career-high three blocked shots. ... The Warriors play the second of their four-game road swing Wednesday night in Dallas. ... The Pelicans lost for the first time at home in five games.