OAKLAND, Calif. -- Chants of "Playoffs! Playoffs! Playoffs!" rang out from fans. Confetti flew around the lower bowl of the arena. Finally, the public address announcer told the crowd what they had longed to hear: "The Golden State Warriors are heading to the 2013 NBA playoffs!"
Klay Thompson scored 25 of his 30 points in the first half, Stephen Curry added 24 points and 10 assists and the Warriors clinched their first playoff berth since 2007 by routing the Minnesota Timberwolves 105-89 on Tuesday night.
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"We celebrated. Rightfully so," teary-eyed and red-faced Warriors coach Mark Jackson said after emerging from the locker room. "People questioned us, and they should have. People doubted us, and they should have. They underestimated the heart, the desire, the work ethic, the determination, the willingness to put in the time."
At long last, Bay Area basketball fans have reason to cheer again.
David Lee finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds to propel the Warriors to just their second postseason appearance in 19 years. Co-owner Joe Lacob shared hugs and handshakes with fans from his courtside seat, raising his right hand to the 30th consecutive sellout crowd announced at 19,596.
Booed off the very same floor a year ago, Lacob savored this one.
"I was chanting playoffs," a smiling Lacob said in the locker room. "I'm happy, too. We're excited. We should be. We should enjoy this. I've got my son (assistant general manger Kirk Lacob), he's very competitive. He's like, `Why are we celebrating?' But the truth is, I told him, 'You've got to celebrate the little moments, too. Every step counts. This is an important first step for this franchise."
Reserve Chase Budinger scored 17 points and Andrei Kirilenko had 15 points for the depleted Timberwolves, who were outshot 43 to 37 percent. Ricky Rubio missed all 10 shots from the floor to go with six assists and five rebounds as Minnesota watched the Warriors celebrate something it had hoped to accomplish this season.
"We didn't play good at all. That's it," Rubio said.
After blowing a chance to seal a playoff spot against Utah on Sunday night, the Warriors needed a win and a loss by the Los Angeles Lakers or the Jazz to clinch this time. Golden State knew it had a chance before halftime, when a team official whispered in Jackson's ear that Utah fell 90-80 to Oklahoma City, which also flashed across the corner scoreboards.
Jackson informed players in the locker room during the break.
"He just told us we're 24 minutes from accomplishing what some of us have been waiting for our whole career," said Lee, who's heading to the postseason for the first time in eight NBA seasons. "I know I have been. Feels great, but we want more."
Thompson made his first nine shots from the floor, including five from beyond the arc, before Curry and Co. found their rhythm. The Warriors went ahead by 18 early in the fourth quarter and left little doubt about what this win meant.
The catchphrase "We Believe" that gained popularity in the Bay Area during the team's surprising run to the second round of the 2007 playoffs has turned into "We Belong." So sure of a postseason appearance, Andrew Bogut -- who had a season-high 14 rebounds -- even convinced teammates to grow beards a few weeks ago until the Warriors clinched a spot.
They can finally shave the scruff after sealing a milestone moment for Lacob and Peter Guber, who bought the Warriors for an NBA-record $450 million in 2010. The owners overhauled the franchise by hiring Jackson as coach and Bob Myers as general manager, even though neither ever held those titles at any level.
Golden State (45-33) remains a game ahead of Houston (44-34) for the Western Conference's sixth seed. Both teams have four games remaining.
"I told them, 'Don't you dare go to the baggage claim, because this is just a layover. This is not our final destination,' " Jackson said. "Celebrate that we got here, but this is not our final destination."
The emotions heated up in the third quarter when Thompson and Luke Ridnour exchanged light shoves before officials whistled Ridnour for a technical foul for pushing Thompson while the two guards ran down court. Thompson smiled and walked away when Ridnour tried to get in his face.
Curry's ensuing free throws were part of a 19-4 run that helped Golden State go ahead for good. Thompson, Curry and Barnes each hit a 3-pointer during the stretch, capped by Curry's floater that put the Warriors up 78-64 late in the third quarter.
"We got impatient the last three minutes of the second quarter and the whole third quarter," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "I thought we forced the issue to get them into the open court. They just opened it up."
Barnes finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds to help Golden State take an 88-70 lead early in the fourth, too much for Minnesota's depleted roster to overcome. The Warriors have won six straight against the Timberwolves and 12 of 14 -- none bigger than the last to give the home fans what they had long hoped: a playoff appearance, and the hope for more.
"I see security guys high-fiving and smiling," Jackson said. "I see concession-stand workers high-fiving and smiling. I see some media folks high-fiving and smiling. It's been a long time, and I'm just blessed to be a part of it."
|Stephen Curry puts up 24 points and 10 assists to help the Warriors clinch their first playoff berth since 2007. (Getty Images)|
|Golden State (45-33) «||26||29||31||19||105|
|MIN:C. Budinger 17 Pts
MIN:G. Stiemsma 9 Reb
MIN:A. Shved 9 Ast
|GS:K. Thompson 30 Pts
GS:A. Bogut 14 Reb
GS:S. Curry 10 Ast
|Players of the Game|
|N. Pekovic, C||26||2-8||1-2||7||0||3||5|
|R. Rubio, PG||22||0-10||5-6||5||6||2||5|
|A. Kirilenko, SF||21||4-7||6-6||4||2||2||15|
|L. Ridnour, PG||21||4-6||0-0||3||3||1||8|
|D. Williams, PF||20||2-8||0-0||0||0||1||5|
|C. Budinger, SF||27||7-15||1-2||6||1||2||17|
|A. Shved, PG||27||1-6||0-0||3||9||2||2|
|D. Cunningham, SF||24||5-10||1-1||3||1||2||11|
|G. Stiemsma, C||22||3-7||0-0||9||3||1||6|
|J. Barea, PG||20||4-10||2-3||3||4||1||13|
|M. Gelabale, SF||5||1-3||0-0||1||0||1||2|
|C. Johnson, PF||4||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|B. Roy, SG||Did Not Play|
|K. Love, PF||Did Not Play|
|M. Lee, SG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|S. Curry, PG||39||9-21||4-5||4||10||4||24|
|K. Thompson, SG||36||10-19||4-4||3||2||4||30|
|D. Lee, C||33||6-12||3-4||12||5||0||15|
|A. Bogut, C||30||1-3||0-2||14||2||3||2|
|H. Barnes, SF||26||6-11||2-2||10||1||3||15|
|J. Jack, PG||23||2-8||0-0||4||2||4||4|
|C. Landry, PF||18||2-7||1-1||1||1||0||5|
|F. Ezeli, C||15||0-2||3-4||8||0||1||3|
|D. Green, SF||8||0-3||0-0||2||1||0||0|
|R. Jefferson, SF||6||2-3||0-0||1||0||0||4|
|K. Bazemore, SG||6||1-2||0-0||1||0||0||3|
|A. Biedrins, C||Did Not Play|
|B. Rush, SG||Did Not Play|
|S. Machado, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|