OAKLAND (California) • Dire circumstances have turned the National Basketball Association (NBA) champions into a desperate team, but the Golden State Warriors are at least halfway to salvation.
They dug themselves out of a sizeable first-half deficit on Saturday to seize control of a game they had to win - with a second-half flourish they are renowned for.
Taking advantage of the absence of Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul, who suffered a hamstring injury towards the end of Game 5, Golden State reinforced their reputation for inflicting third-quarter devastation, and eventually scored a rousing 115-86 victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals to even the see-saw series at 3-3.
Golden State surrendered 39 points in the opening quarter and fell behind by as many as 17 points, only to gradually ratchet up the pace after half-time.
They outscored Houston by 17 points in the decisive third quarter and by 46 over the final three quarters, led by their high-octane trio of Klay Thompson (35 points), Stephen Curry (29) and Kevin Durant (23). The Rockets were paced by 32 points from James Harden.
Still, for the first time in this four-season run of rampant success, they are in a play-off series without home-court advantage.
Points Golden State outscored Houston by in the final three quarters, after surrendering 39 points in the first.
To secure a fourth successive trip to the NBA Finals, they must win a Game 7 in Houston tonight (tomorrow morning, Singapore time).
The Warriors have strung together two or more consecutive victories on 15 separate occasions this term and they will have to do so for the 16th time to save their season.
It is the first time since 1979 that both NBA conference finals have been stretched to the maximum of seven games.
In Golden State's favour, though, is the possibility that Paul will not be able to play in the most meaningful game of his 13-season career, with the Rockets seeking their first Finals trip since 1995.
The 33-year-old did travel to the Bay Area but watched the defeat in uniform from the Houston bench.
Unrealistic as it seems, given the nature of hamstring injuries and his age, Houston coach Mike D'Antoni refused to rule out the possibility that Paul will find a way to get on the court for the decider.
"All our doctors are with us," he said, explaining why the nine-time All-Star travelled for Game 6 despite having been ruled out. "He can get the same type of treatment.
"He doesn't want to miss this. He's worked his whole career to be here. He's very responsible for us getting here, so he needs to be here."
Paul began this post-season as the league's career leader in play-off games without making a trip to the conference finals and, according to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, he "pretty much willed" Houston to victory in Games 4 and 5.
"More than anything, I feel bad for Chris," Kerr said. "He's just been haunted by these types of injuries in his career. And it's a shame."
The Warriors were also short-handed, with forward Andre Iguodala, the Most Valuable Player in the 2015 NBA Finals, missing out with a lower leg contusion.
They have missed his settling nature and passing instincts, with the team losing two of the three games he has missed.
"We're operating under the assumption that he will not play, but he is literally day-to-day," Kerr said of the 34-year-old.