Chris Wright chased down Marco Belinelli in the waning seconds, reached up and swatted a layup — with the ball clearly on the way down — off the glass for an easy goaltending call.
In an odd scene, a stream of confetti flew up in the lower deck, apparently set off by some of Golden State’s home fans with the only thing left to cheer for: losses to improve position in the NBA draft lottery.
Almost time to celebrate.
Wright’s goaltending on Belinelli’s layup with 1.5 seconds remaining handed the New Orleans Hornets an 83-81 victory over the Warriors, preserving Golden State’s chances to retain its protected high first-round draft pick with another loss in the season finale.
”I think it’s important to win,” Belinelli said. ”I don’t care if it’s one or two more games in the season, lottery pick, I don’t care. I just want to get a win. That’s the mentality we need to have.”
The Hornets hurried back in dramatic fashion — at least as much drama as two teams out of the playoff picture can provide.
Greivis Vazquez blocked Charles Jenkins’ layup to start a fast break in the final seconds. He pushed the ball ahead to a wide-open Belinelli, whose layup touched the backboard and was on its way down before Wright hustled over for the illegal swat. Golden State never even got a shot off in the final 0.7 seconds after a timeout.
Many Warriors fans actually were cheering for the Hornets.
Golden State has to finish in the bottom seven of the league after the draft lottery to keep its protected first-round pick, acquired by Utah in a previous trade. The Warriors are eighth-worst in the league entering Thursday night’s season finale at home against San Antonio.
”I thought it was a layup that possibly he was going to make anyway, but you never know,” Wright said. ”I just tried to get the block on the last play and help my team anyway I could. It’s heartbreaking still … I really hate losing.”
Warriors rookie Klay Thompson had a team-high 16 points through three quarters but was benched for the fourth by rookie coach Mark Jackson. Jeremy Tyler, who fouled out with about three minutes left, finished with 13 points and eight rebounds for Golden State (23-42) — still in position to tie Toronto (22-43) or New Jersey (22-43) for the seventh-worst record.
While Thompson said he was kicked in the shin, Jackson had another reason for the move.
”I thought it was a great opportunity to see what these other guys have,” Jackson said. ”It’s easy to do it when the season is over with and it’s easy to do it during summer league, but I really wanted to see what they could do against NBA players.”
What they did is lose.
In the end, perhaps for Golden State’s benefit.
The Raptors and Nets play each other Thursday. If Golden State is tied with either, the league holds a drawing Friday to decide draft position.
Belinelli, sent to Toronto in exchange for Devean George in 2009 after two seasons at Golden State, scored 23 points and Gustavo Ayon had 13 points and seven rebounds for the Hornets, who began Tuesday last in the Western Conference and third-worst in the NBA.
Golden State scored the game’s first eight points and seemed on its way to a rare runaway win.
Not that many here wanted it.
Instead, Belinelli boosted the Bay Area’s basketball-starved base more than he ever did as a member of the Warriors, giving the home fans something most of them have wanted for more than a month: losses to improve position in the NBA draft lottery. He scored 14 in the first half to tie the score at 43-all.
After Golden State went ahead by seven late, Belinelli made a 3-pointer and Vazquez followed with a running layup to tie the score at 81-all during a brief spurt. Vazquez then blocked Jenkins to start the winning break, keeping Golden State in the hunt for a high first-round pick.
That’s about all that was left to decide between these two bottom-dwellers. With only nine active players on each side, the teams had injury lists longer than the starting lineups.
That has forced Jackson — who started all three of the team’s draft picks this season along with reserve Mickell Gladness, who was originally signed to a 10-day contract in late March, and veteran Richard Jefferson — to refute questions about the franchise intentionally losing to protect its high first-round draft pick.
NOTES: Warriors F David Lee is scheduled to visit Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia on Wednesday for the forward’s strained groin and stress reaction. He has missed seven straight games. … Hornets coach Monty Williams said PG Eric Gordon also will sit out the season finale Thursday at Houston to rest his back.