These are the Golden State Warriors. They are like surfers willing to share a wave, who move one way, lean the other direction, who thrive in a crowd without getting in each other’s way.
Stephen Curry gets most of the accolades. Draymond Green does most of the talking and fills the stat sheet. Andre Iguodala comes off the bench and suffocates opponents. And then there’s Klay Thompson, a fascinating combination of subtle and spectacular.
“Klay’s one of the best two-way players in our league,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Sunday night after his team routed the Cleveland Cavaliers 110-77 in Game 2 of this NBA Finals mismatch. “Between his shooting and his defense, I don’t know why more people don’t see that.”
The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Thompson was hard to miss Sunday. In the significant sequences in the second and third quarters, with the Warriors switching, rotating, defending, passing and scoring – in other words, being true to their inner selves – their soft-spoken shooting guard contributed in a multitude of ways.
I said, ‘Son, it should feel better to stop your man from scoring than it feels to score because it’s harder to play defense than to score. So take as much pride in your defense as you do in your shooting and your scoring.’ And he does.
Mychal Thompson, on his message to son Klay
In the second quarter, Thompson answered an emphatic LeBron James dunk with a three-pointer from the right side, stole a pass and found Shaun Livingston for a layup, scored from the elbow, found Green behind the left arc, deflected the ball and passed to his loquacious teammate for another three, and sagged into the lane and pressured the charging, 6-8, 250-pound James into dribbling off his foot.
Then in the third quarter, when the Cavaliers again showed a flicker of a pulse, a tick of a heartbeat, Thompson smothered Kyrie Irving and helped harass James into a series of turnovers that turned the game into a rout.
Afterward, the quieter of the Splash Brothers joked that the defending champs were better than the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers – the team that in its late years included his father, Mychal. The 6-10 forward/center was bigger and stronger than his son, though he couldn’t touch Klay as a shooter. But he could preach, and preach he did.
“I sort of used my philosophy with him,” said Mychal, a radio analyst with the Lakers. “I said, ‘Son, it should feel better to stop your man from scoring than it feels to score because it’s harder to play defense than to score. So take as much pride in your defense as you do in your shooting and your scoring.’ And he does.”
Besides the work ethic, desire and intelligence, some of this is attributable to the family’s genes. The younger Thompson’s exceptional footwork enables him to slide, or seemingly glide, and position himself in front of opponents. Forget his influence on James’ seven turnovers. Thompson is disrupting J.R. Smith and Irving, who is having an atrocious series. The point guard finished with one assist and three turnovers Sunday and rarely had an open look.
“Everything was about our defense,” Kerr said. “You have to be able to help on LeBron and get back out to shooters, and it’s a very difficult job.”
Earlier, Kerr noted the seven-game Western Conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder “definitely made us stronger. We were lucky to escape.”
If this pattern of these first two games continues, with James forced to play a combined role of Superman and Batman, then the job ends in four or five games. Unfortunately for those craving a competitive Finals, history appears to be repeating.
The previous time a Western Conference finals went seven games – that classic Kings-Lakers matchup 14 years ago – the championship series was lopsided and anticlimactic. The Lakers, who were still consumed by their dramatic comeback victory against Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, etc., and even wrote poems about coach Rick Adelman, swept the New Jersey Nets with surprising ease. It was game, set, match, and see ya next year.
Everything was about our defense. You have to be able to help on LeBron and get back out to shooters, and it’s a very difficult job.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr
“We’ve got to be better at all facets of the game,” James said afterward, “offensively and defensively, both physically and mentally. They beat us pretty good tonight.”
So it’s on to Cleveland for the Warriors, who are surging even without the waves.