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Upon signing Jermaine O'Neal last summer, the Warriors knew exactly what they were getting: A 17-year veteran with such high body mileage that the constant maintenance has caused him to twice contemplate retirement.
But O'Neal's impact in Tuesday's win over Toronto was the latest display of his commitment to this season – perhaps his last – regardless of any protests or demands coming from his physique.
That doesn't mean the 35-year-old backup center doesn't hear the noise. O'Neal missed the third game of the season on Nov. 2 with a contusion on his right foot. He missed four games when he sustained a bruised right knee and strained groin after slipping on the court Nov. 16 against Utah. In the days before he returned for the Nov. 26 game at Utah, O'Neal said he was dealing with a viral infection and a sore wrist.
O'Neal initially tore cartilage in his left wrist in 2010. He underwent surgery in March 2012 when he was a member of the Boston Celtics. Team doctors in Boston diagnosed it as a "degenerative" condition that would, at the least, affect the rest of his career. It might even require additional surgery.
Now, 21 months later, O'Neal is playing through it. In five games since he mentioned his wrist last week, he is averaging about 22 minutes a game. Moreover, he generally has been effective. He scored 11 points and snagged eight rebounds in 23 minutes Tuesday night.
He also delivered what by all accounts was a rousing halftime speech that inspired his young teammates to make a monumental comeback in the second half.
O'Neal's focus and dedication thus far can be attributed to the single goal of winning a championship.
"I tell these guys, I'm into my 18th year," O'Neal said after the game. "I'm not playing for any money. I'm planning for a championship. God has blessed me to make a nice living for my family, and to be a building block for my family for many years.
"I'm still playing only to try to win a championship, because I'm envious of guys opening up the champagne and crying and confetti . . . it's something that I dream about."
The demands and protests have had no effect. The Warriors can only hope that remains the case.