OAKLAND — Warriors coach Don Nelson started getting nervous. His team's 18-point fourth quarter lead was down to 10, so he put guard Monta Ellis back into the game, a bit odd considering Ellis was 4-for-13 from the floor at that point.
But moments later, Ellis had Portland Trail Blazers point guard Sergio Rodriguez in front of him. Ellis put the dude known as "Spanish Chocolate" in a blender, spinning Rodriguez around with a crossover, and swishing a 15-foot step-back jumper.
It was the Ellis fans at Oracle Arena remember.
In Thursday's 105-98 win over Portland, Ellis scored eight points in the fourth quarter — including three consecutive baskets inside of three minutes — to save the Warriors from another heartbreaking loss. He finished with 20 points, his highest total since scoring 20 in his season debut against visiting Cleveland on Jan. 23.
For Ellis, who missed the first 43 games recovering from off-season ankle surgery, it was a welcome high note in a rocky first part of his belated season.
"It always feels good to do that," Ellis said of his fourth-quarter performance, "especially to get back to doing what I was doing and get back in a groove."
Thanks to Ellis, the Warriors have now won nine of their past 16 games and four straight at home.
Three of those seven losses were on last-second shots, not including the overtime nail-biting defeat to visiting San Antonio on Feb. 2. The Warriors were seconds away from riding a 12-game home winning streak into the All-Star break.
Golden State's offense was hardly as potent as it had been. They shot just 40.8 percent from the field and fell well short of the 128 points they had averaged over their previous three home games.
Despite what the 37 points from Portland guard Brandon Roy might suggest, the Warriors pulled out the victory with defense.
They forced 23 turnovers, which led to 20 points. They held Portland to 15 second-chance points, and the Blazers' third-highest scorer was Rodriguez with 10 points.
"Our defense is improving," Nelson said. "I thought our schemes were good tonight, and the team carried it out. But it helps when they miss shots. We got a lot of deflections tonight, got our hands on a lot of balls."
The Warriors have five days to marinate in their recent successes, though it would've been a gruesome break had the Warriors blown an 18-point fourth-quarter advantage.
Golden State led 80-62 entering the fourth quarter, but Rodriguez scored a layup with 4:58 left to trim the Warriors' lead to 87-77. The layup attempt by Corey Maggette, who had a team-high 24 points, was blocked by Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge, leading to a runner in the lane by Roy, who got his 37 points on 14-for-21 shooting.
Center Ronny Turiaf, who registered his first double-double as a Warrior (14 points, 11 rebounds), answered by dunking home Stephen Jackson's missed runner.
The Warriors' lead was down to 89-84 when Ellis — who was 0-for-6 from outside the key, excluding a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the half — put the Warriors offense on his back.
After Ellis' highlight play over Rodriguez, making the score 91-84 with 2:35 left, Aldridge knocked down a pair of free throws. But Ellis came right back down, pulled up from 19 feet out on the left wing. Nailed it.
The Warriors got the ball back on an offensive foul by Aldridge. Ellis came down and drilled another jumper, giving the Warriors a 95-86 advantage with 1:22 left. The Blazers made a scare of it, but the Warriors closed with two free throws each by Jackson, Crawford and Ellis.
A much-needed peak in a mountainous first half of the season. For Ellis and the Warriors.
"Now I just need a break," Ellis said, "clear my mind a little bit."
Contact Marcus Thompson II at firstname.lastname@example.org