NEW ORLEANS –- The Warriors can smell it, almost taste it. They've won the first three games of this first-round series against New Orleans and need one more victory to sweep into the second round.
On a night when they were the inferior team for the vast majority of the game's 53-minutes, the Warriors roared back from a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit and danced out of Smoothie King Center with a 123-119 overtime victory.
The Game 3 win – and the way it unfolded Thursday night – dropped a hammer of despair upon the Pelicans and their stunned fans.
How can they possibly win even one game after coming home and losing a game that seemed well within their grasp?
How can the Warriors possibly lose a game to the Pelicans, much less four in a row, after pulling this one from the bottom of the garbage can?
"We had nothing going for three quarters," coach Steve Kerr said. "It was as bad a game as I've seen us play in a long time, and a lot had to do with them."
The Warriors were trailing 89-69 after three quarters because New Orleans shot better (55.6 percent to 35.8 percent), rebounded better (38-27) and definitely defended better. They also owned the paint (38 points to 20).
But the fourth quarter, and overtime, belonged to the Warriors. It belonged to Shaun Livingston, who scored nine points, but mostly to Stephen Curry who scored 10 of his game-high 40.
The Warriors filled that 20-point hole by playing their best offense of the night, shooting 50 percent. Mostly, though, they resorted to actual defense, outrebounding the Pelicans 18-7 and holding them to 36.8 percent shooting.
"It was good offense in the fourth, but it's our defense getting stops at that end, playing with high energy," said Klay Thompson, who tossed in 28 points. "That's what got us back in the game."
Curry re-entered the game with 7:43 left and the Warriors trailing 97-79. They went on a 29-11 run, with Curry splashing a 3-pointer to close the gap to 107-105 with 11.8 seconds left and then another – this one of eternal highlight quality – to tie it at 108-all with 2.8 seconds to play.
"We finally got composed," Kerr said. "We were in desperation mode and we started making some shots. But more importantly, we were able to make stops at the other end. That's what got us back in the game."
The Pelicans showed up for overtime and didn't play poorly. But they clearly were in over their heads. The Warriors owned the glass, which meant they insisted on winning.
"We knew we had all the momentum when Steph hit that shot going into overtime," Thompson said. "We don't want to have to come back here, so it was an amazing way to finish the game."
And now they want to put a bow on this series.
"Absolutely," Draymond Green said. "To get this game, it's like let's come out and throw some blows now. The mindset definitely changed.
"We definitely want to come out and sweep. That'll be our mindset coming into Game 4. Just come out and try to win one game."
The Warriors became the third team in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55) to overcome a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit in a playoff game. They earned their first win in 359 such games overall.
Curry's game-tying shot was epic, another in his ongoing highlight reel of a season.
Green, laboring on two bad wheels, finished with a game-high 17 rebounds – 12 of which of which came in the second half, including seven in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors opened the game with five consecutive treys, three from Thompson and two from Curry.
From late in the first quarter through the early stages of the fourth, the Warriors had serious difficulty scoring or slowing the Pelicans and were outscored 88-62 during that stretch.
The Warriors, the No. 1 defense in the NBA this season, allowed New Orleans to shoot 70.8 percent – not a misprint – in the second quarter.
The bench rallied a bit late, behind Livingston, but still was schooled, outscored 58-26 by the Pelicans bench. They had no answer for Ryan Anderson and Norris Cole.
The Warriors are one win from closing out the series and have yet to play an impressive game. But this one was crushing for the Pelicans, and both teams know it. Curry was phenomenal, the defense arrived just in time and Green's will overwhelmed the Pelicans. This series is not over. But this series is over.