Inside the Warriors' most devastating quarter

SOMETHING FEELS ... OFF, ominous, maybe even inevitable. The 76ers are up by a whopping 22 points at intermission after playing one of their best first halves of the season. Yet sitting there in the locker room at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, guard JJ Redick is hit with a familiar dread. It's akin to a message that moviegoers wish they could grant soon-to-be victims in a horror film -- and it's the same one that Redick often wishes he could tell opposing teams when he tunes into Golden State Warriors games from afar.

"Like, 'It's coming, guys! It's coming!'" Redick says.

And here, on Nov. 18, 2017, when his team is facing these same Warriors, that very notion won't leave Redick alone. But he doesn't have to look far for an explanation -- he just needs to think back nine months prior, to the opposite coast, to Oakland, California.

There, at Oracle Arena, Redick had been with the LA Clippers during a Feb. 24, 2017, matchup against the Warriors. In the game, the Clippers had carried a 61-49 edge into halftime against their ostensible Northern California rival. "And there's just this ... feeling," Redick says. "Like, at some point Steph's gonna get hot. At some point, they're gonna just hit three straight 3s, the crowd is gonna go nuts -- and it's on."

And then, the moment did arrive. And Stephen Curry did indeed go berserk, scoring 17 of his 35 points -- including four 3-pointers -- over 3 minutes, 37 seconds. In all, the Warriors dropped 50 points in one quarter, their first 50-point quarter since 1989. They had cruised to a double-digit win. Indeed, it was on.

"You're demoralized at times," Redick says, "because you can play a possession perfectly, you can do everything right, do your coverage right, and they can still, you know, whether it's Steph, or KD, or Klay ...

"So it's scary, man."

Redick knows all too well that the Warriors' blitzes can and do arrive at any time. But there is a signature moment when the Warriors are their most devastating, as many around the NBA have come to learn -- and that's why, on Nov. 18, 2017, with the 76ers up by 22 points over the Warriors, Redick feels their huge edge isn't safe.

What's coming, exactly?

The third quarter.

REMEMBER WHEN WARRIORS guard Klay Thompson scored an NBA-record 37 points in a single quarter on Jan. 23, 2015, against the Kings in Sacramento? He did so in the third.

And when Curry went nuclear and outscored the Pelicans by himself, 28-26, in a single quarter on Halloween in 2015? That also happened in the third.

Or how about when the Warriors went on a 22-0 run versus the Kings in February 2017? Or a 22-0 burst over the Lakers in January 2016? Or a 19-0 surge over the Bulls in January 2018? Or their 18-0 eruptions over the Spurs in May 2017 and the Celtics in November 2016?

Those blitzkriegs constitute five of the Warriors' eight largest unanswered runs since coach Steve Kerr took over in 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

And all of them happened in, yes, the third quarter.

The trend continued in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday, when the Warriors opened the third with a game-turning 17-6 run. Just like that, the Cavaliers' halftime edge was gone, their hometown momentum evaporated, and the Warriors motored on to a win, 110-102, placing them one win from their third title in four years.

"We know this team that we're going against [is] the best, first of all, the best third-quarter team in the NBA," LeBron James said, "and once again they showed that tonight by outscoring us by eight [in the third] after we had a lead at halftime."

Entering these Finals, which Golden State can finish off in a sweep in Friday's Game 4 in Cleveland, the figures on the Warriors' third-quarter play from the past four seasons, including the playoffs, are staggering.

In that span, the Warriors lead the NBA in virtually every category in the third quarter, from points per game to offensive and defensive efficiency. But their plus-16.7 net efficiency in the third is mythical. For comparison, the 73-win Warriors boasted a plus-11.6 net efficiency for the season, and the best net efficiency for a season since 1982-83 is plus-13.3 from the 1995-96 Bulls.

Another way of looking at it: Entering the 2018 Finals, this season's Warriors have added a total of 335 percent in win probability during the third quarter alone -- almost three times as high as the next-closest team. Which means that, basically, the Warriors won more than three full games thanks to their third-quarter play alone. During their recent seven-game Western Conference finals series against the Rockets, the Warriors created 239 percent of their win probability during the third quarters -- the only quarter during which they were a net positive for the series.

Or try this one on for size: Entering these Finals, the 2017-18 Warriors have outscored opponents by an eye-popping 130 points in the third quarter, the largest point differential in any single quarter by a team in the playoffs in the shot-clock era (since 1945-55), according to Elias Sports Bureau research.

Over the past four seasons, the Warriors shoot their highest percentage from the floor (49.8 percent) and 3-point range (42 percent) in the third quarter. There have been seven instances when a player has scored 25 or more points in the third quarter over the past four seasons -- and six of those instances belong to Curry or Thompson.

The Warriors' third-quarter dominance is so frequent that if they trail in the first half, the collective response on NBA Twitter -- from Warriors fans and others -- is often, simply, wait until the third.

And when that third-quarter run eventually, inevitably begins to roll? An avalanche of GIFs proliferate the platform.

STEPH CURRY IS in Chicago, on his way to the team bus, to catch the team plane to Houston, where they'll face the Rockets. Not 24 hours prior, the Warriors had unloaded a 19-0 third-quarter barrage to dispatch the Bulls on a frigid January night earlier this season. Now, after a midday practice before heading out, Curry explains what happened. "The third-quarter [runs]," Curry says, "are just the product of us wearing on teams over the course for 48 minutes."

It's the same explanation that Kerr offers as well: simple fatigue.

"Teams tend to play really, really hard against us from the beginning," Kerr says from the podium before Game 1. "We've been the hunted for the last few years. I think teams are excited to play us, and they come out on fire defensively, and it takes a lot out of them.

"In the third quarter, teams tend to tire a little bit, and maybe that's why we make a push."

When halftime arrives, the Warriors, like any team in any sport on any level, make adjustments. The tweaks might be more subtle than outsiders realize, says Warriors assistant Ron Adams, such as requests to play with more energy or focus. Players credit Kerr for adjusting on the fly, but his voice doesn't dominate the 15-minute period, either.

"That's the one really good thing about our culture -- that the players will voice things as we [coaches] watch tape and talk about adjustments," Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser says.

Draymond Green will speak up, as will Curry, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and others. "We have a team that's been empowered," Adams says. "And I think there's a thread running through them that suggests what they have to do. That's a big part of it, and I think they understand.

"They've been in a lot of battles and been in a lot of situations where we've had to dig ourselves out of a hole. The team's played with consistency. They believe in themselves. Even when things look disastrous on the court, they never doubt themselves."

Indeed, even with all their firepower, the Warriors have found themselves facing many steep first-half deficits, which can create frustration and "embarrassment," as Thompson put it.

"Guys are upset," Kerr says, "so their competitive desire kicks in." So when they hit the court, they do so with an urgency to bounce back -- immediately.

But for as much as the Warriors might expect to post an insurmountable run in the third, their foes might expect it, too.

"It may be a self-fulfilling prophecy," Fraser says. Yet though the Warriors know well that the third quarter is when they're often at their best, they don't want that to be a crutch, either -- an excuse to play sloppy for the first two quarters.

"We don't go out in the first, second quarter and be like, 'Oh man, we are just going to play and wait for that third-quarter run,'" Green says.

And it's not as if the coaches emphasize the third quarter, specifically, as the point in which the Warriors need to take over the game, even if that's what has happened many times before.

"I've never heard any of us say that," Fraser says. "But in the back of all of our minds, we're talented, we've been in all these situations, so I think we know what to expect."

And what do they expect, especially if the Warriors are trailing at halftime? "I expect us to close that gap pretty quickly," Fraser says.

ASK SEVERAL WARRIORS to flip through the massive mental scrapbook of all their favorite runs, and it is, unsurprisingly, a third-quarter surge that sticks out most: the one against the 76ers in November 2017, the one that had so devastated Redick.

"That was ridiculous," Durant says.

Indeed, just as Redick feared might happen, the Warriors had outscored the 76ers 47-15 in that third quarter, going from down by 22 at halftime to up by 10 entering the fourth quarter. Along the way, an ear-splitting sellout crowd that once boomed "Trust the Process" fell silent.

"That was just like, yo," Green says, his eyes growing wide. "That was one of them where while it was going on, you were like, 'What the hell is this?' And yet, you're sitting there like, this is nuts. You felt that one. It was -- that one was special."

After the game, Kerr stood against a blue-and-gold Warriors backdrop in a long, lonely-looking white hallway at Wells Fargo Center. Surrounded by reporters, Kerr recalled calling early timeouts to slow the 76ers, but that didn't work. "It took more than that," Kerr said with a grin.

"It took the embarrassment of being blown off the floor to get us going."

And the third quarter began -- and the Warriors did what the Warriors do.

Research contributed by Ben Alamar, ESPN's director of sports analytics, and ESPN Stats & Information's Vincent Johnson and Michael Schwartz.