OAKLAND — Down by eight points against the Los Angeles Lakers midway through the third quarter, the Golden State Warriors needed a surge of energy in a seemingly lifeless Oracle Arena.
Barreling down the middle of the lane, DeMarcus Cousins had just the right spark in mind as Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma rotated late, attempting to draw the charge.
With a thunderous slam, Cousins bulldozed over the crumbling Kuzma, staring him down as the Warriors bench — and Oracle — rose to their feet.
Cousins’ dunk, which also earned the first-year Warrior a technical foul, meant more to Golden State than the mere two points it registered on the stat sheet. On Saturday night, the play gave the Warriors a shot of adrenaline and propelled them to a 115-101 win over the Lakers.
“I though his dunk brought the arena to life and the team to life,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “We were searching for energy and emotion up until that point.”
An hour and a half before Saturday night’s prime time game between two of the most polarizing franchises in the NBA, Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports reported that Lakers star LeBron James would not be playing, after returning to the court against the Los Angeles Clippers two day earlier.
James had missed 17 games after sustaining a groin strain against the Warriors on Christmas Day.
“This was a typical game where you let your guard down because the other team’s best player isn’t playing,” Kerr said.
In the first quarter, the Warriors — who had their 11-game winning streak snapped by the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday — came out of the gates looking as ready as ever to put on a show, scoring 33 points and shooting 63 percent from the floor.
Leading the way for Golden State was Klay Thompson, who had 9 of his 28 points in the first period on 4-of-5 shooting after returning from an illness that kept him off the court in Thursday’s loss.
An entire section of Lakers fans sitting on the third deck at Oracle were heard chanting “WE WANT THOMPSON!” as he began to torch Los Angeles from the jump.
“I didn’t even hear it,” Thompson said. “I look at the bright side. It means you’re wanted. I guess that means you’re doing something right. It’s a part of our business. People love speculating who’s gonna go where.”
“They should want Klay,” Kerr added. “If I were sitting with them, I’d want the same thing.”
Besides the pleads for Thompson from those Lakers fans, Oracle Arena quickly fell quiet as Los Angeles cut the 11-point lead the Warriors had built down to five by halftime.
By the middle of the third, Los Angeles outscored the Warriors by 15 points, building themselves a double-digit lead of their own, taking a 10-point lead.
As the Warriors struggled to find the basket, missing nine of their first 10 shot attempts in the quarter, Cousins got the ball off of a feed from Kevin Durant at the top of the key.
Stretching his right arm fully, Cousins rose up over Kuzma, who slid in under the 6-foot-11 center. As he threw the ball through the net, Oracle erupted.
All Cousins could do was stare, while Warriors forward Andre Iguodala tried — unsuccessfully — to carry him away before he drew a technical foul.
“I wished that never happened,” Cousins said. “I need that tech back. [Andre] tried to pull me away last minute but that’s a part of the new NBA: No stare downs.”
With a shot of adrenaline, the Warriors marched back into contention of the game, closing the 10-point hole to just three points by the end of the third.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who had registered only two points and was an abysmal 0-for-8 heading into the final period would help finish the job for Golden State, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the final 12 minutes of the game.
“You can count on one hand how many times that’s happened,” Iguodala said in regards to Curry’s rough start. “We’re so used to him just making everything for himself and creating for himself and others that we can forget to just get him a solid look, set him a solid screen.
“He got a layup and that opened things up for him. So I think he kind of figured things out. We don’t worry about that too much.”
With Curry’s closing ability, the Warriors would outscore the Lakers 27-15 in the final period.
“I’m happy with that win,” Thompson said. “Any win in this league, you gotta be grateful for.”