OAKLAND — Klay Thompson wasn’t ready to be done.
It sounds like such an obvious sentiment, right? A professional athlete who enjoys winning championships would prefer to keep playing for another title rather than head home for the summer. In other news, people need air and fish like water.
But when the Golden State guard worked his Game 6 magic again on Saturday night, hitting nine three-pointers and scoring 35 points in the Warriors’ 115-86 win that forced Game 7 in Houston on Monday, his inspiration truly was that simple. Again.
Anyone who was in Oklahoma City on that May 28, 2016 night remembers the look in Thompson’s eye when he saved the Warriors’ season. There was a determination there that cut through all the pressure of the moment, with those 73-win Warriors only moving on because Thompson caught fire from long range in the kind of way few ever have.
“I just knew this wasn’t going to be my last game, man,” he said that night. “If it by chance was, I was going to go out shooting, being aggressive. I see a couple easy looks go in, and after that you’ve got your legs under you and everything feels like it’s going to go in. I just stuck with it, never doubted myself.”
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Fast forward two years, and there was a familiar theme to his message this time around: Belief in oneself.
“I learned, as I get older, if you play with passion, you play hard, and you leave the game saying ‘I gave everything I have tonight in those 48 minutes,’ you can live with the result,” the 28-year-old Thompson said.
So long as this star-studded Warriors core stays together, and so long as they keep winning, the debate will continue about which player is the most important and why. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are the clear leaders in the clubhouse when it comes to sheer talent, and Draymond Green will always be known as the “heart and soul” of their club, as coach Steve Kerr deemed him years ago.
But it’s games like this that remind you why the cool-and-collected Thompson is such a perfect fit for their formula — not to mention why the Warriors need to lock him up with an extension when July rolls around. It’s not only because of his shooting ability that was on full display as Golden State turned a 10-point halftime deficit into a 29-point rout, or the defense that was so smart and spirited against likely MVP James Harden as he slowed in the second half (10 of his 32 points and a minus-32 rating after halftime). Or, of course, the durability that is so often overlooked (he has missed a combined 21 regular-season games since entering the league in 2011).
35 points & 9 triples!
Klay had no desire to go home!#NBAPlayoffs | #DubNationpic.twitter.com/fCSf43cIrI
— NBA (@NBA) May 27, 2018
It’s the combination of Thompson’s play and his personality that allows Golden State to be great. Take a backseat to Curry during those pre-Durant “Splash Brothers” days that led to this era? No problem. Welcome Durant with open arms two summers ago rather than worry about whether it might diminish his scoring role? Sure thing. Do the dirty work on both ends while knowing it will never be fully appreciated by anyone who’s not on the Warriors coaching staff? You got it.
“Well, I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.
“I think Klay doesn’t worry too much about repercussions. He doesn’t worry about judgment and results. I think he just loves to play. He’s so comfortable in his own skin. I just think he wants to go out there and hoop, and he doesn’t worry about much else. So the pressure doesn’t seem to bother him much. He just competes and plays.”
The @warriors were on FIRE in the 2nd half, outscoring HOU 64-25 to grab the crucial Game 6 win and force Game 7 on Monday! 🔥🔥🔥#NBAPlayoffs | #DubNationpic.twitter.com/oFcPUEMqqp
— NBA (@NBA) May 27, 2018
No one has had a more unique perspective on Thompson’s Game 6 heroics than Durant, of course, as it was his Thunder who paid the price the last time this occurred. When he was asked about it afterward, he smiled and said, “Next question.”
Curry, seated alongside Durant on the postgame podium, quipped that, “I think we both blocked that whole year out of our memory,” in reference to the Warriors’ infamous collapse against Cleveland in those 2016 NBA Finals.
But therein lies the beauty of Thompson’s presence. The Warriors were down 17 at one point in Game 6, facing all the ridicule that will surely come if they can’t get to the Finals against a Rockets team that doesn’t have Chris Paul. And then Thompson started to find the net, hitting shot after shot in stride with Curry (29 points; five threes), and the Warriors were on their way.
“You know, it’s definitely inspiring to every basketball player out there,” Durant said of Thomson’s approach to the game. “Klay continues to just love to play every single day, no matter what. He still has that childlike joy for it, and I think tonight it showed a lot from both ends of the floor.”