"Please win for us," Azubuike said. "We've been boys for a long time. I never asked you to do anything. Do this one thing for me."
That "one thing" is all that stands between the Warriors and a chance at new life in their ever-twisting playoff quest. Rebounding from the crushing disappointment of Thursday's head-to-head loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Warriors held off the Los Angeles Clippers 122-116 in a wire-to-wire victory that felt anything but safely in hand for much of the evening.
Combined with Denver's 124-97 blowout loss in Utah on Saturday, the Warriors are once again tied with the Nuggets for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference standings at 48-32. But because Denver holds the tie-breaker, Golden State must finish one game ahead.
That's where Hayes' Rockets come into play. They face Denver tonight in Colorado, and a victory there would give the Warriors the simplest of marching orders: win your final two games, earn a berth in the postseason.
"We need the whole Bay Area to root Houston on," Warriors forward Al Harrington said. "We're Houston fans for one night."
It took the return of Houston-area native to make certain that the Nuggets-Rockets game hold any importance. Gulf Coast product Stephen Jackson, whose
Baron Davis cracked the seams of the Clippers' zone for nine points and three assists in the fourth quarter, part of a 25-point, nine-assist evening.
"They realize what time of the year it is and what we need from them," said Harrington, who contributed 17 points and eight rebounds. "We need both of them playing their 'A' game to make this thing happen."
Davis scored five points and set up Monta Ellis for an alley-oop dunk during a 14-3 run early in the final period. Golden State led 107-95 at the end of that stretch. Though the Clippers would get to within five points in the final two minutes of the game, fast-break layups from Ellis (17 points, seven assists) and Jackson on back-to-back trips downcourt finally put this one down.
Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said prior to the game that his team's dilapidated condition left it vulnerable to getting blown out in the fourth quarter. Forward Corey Maggette, the Clippers' leading scorer, was limited to 30 minutes with a strained right hamstring and center Chris Kaman, Los Angeles' top rebounder, sat out entirely because of a sprained ankle.
But Golden State had no intention of waiting that long; it hit six of its first seven 3-pointers, and 16 of an initial 21 shots overall while opening a 42-22 lead after 10:44. Harrington drained three 3-pointers en route to 13 points and Jackson added 10 of his own.
However, just as in that devastating loss to the Nuggets, the Warriors gave back much of that early lead over the course of a desultory second period in which a quartet of reserves drew the bulk of the playing time. Los Angeles outscored Golden State 35-26 in that quarter, getting 13 points from Rookie of the Year candidate Al Thornton.
Eight consecutive points early in the third quarter from Golden State back in command. The lead touched 18 when Patrick O'Bryant, making only his second appearance since March 7, flushed an alley-oop dunk from Davis at the 2:51 mark.
But Cuttino Mobley opened the fourth quarter by scoring six straight points, bringing the Clippers to within one possession at 93-90. Maggette cut it to one point with two free throws before Jackson finally scored the Warriors' first points of the period, on a gliding layup at the 9:26 mark, to make it 95-92. That started the 14-3 run that gave Golden State control permanently.
The Warriors are scheduled to leave for Phoenix at 3 p.m. today, so the Nuggets and Rockets should be tipping off just about when Golden State's contingent arrives at its hotel.
If the Rockets do come through, a win over the Suns on Monday and against Seattle at home Wednesday would put the Warriors into the playoffs for their first back-to-back appearances since 1991 and '92.
"I'm going to watch the game and have a few cocktails," Warriors coach Don Nelson said. "What else should I be doing? Biting my fingernails? They're already gone."
Contact Geoff Lepper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WARRIORS 122, CLIPPERS 116