Klay Thompson isn’t the best athlete, the best shooter, the best scorer on his team. His performance reflects his personality. He doesn’t hunt for shots or chase publicity, and couldn’t care less if the camera seeks his more celebrated teammates.
But becoming a Golden State Warrior these past few years is learned behavior. There is no longer a place to hide. The ball moves faster than a speeding bullet, and he shares a starting lineup with superstars who pass and cut and rotate and score – and are on constant lookout for each other. Steph Curry will hit Thompson with a baseball pass, Draymond Green will find him cutting to the basket, Kevin Durant will penetrate and spot the veteran shooting guard in the corners, on the wings, behind the arc.
Thompson – whose emergence from a prolonged slump essentially coincided with Steve Kerr’s return as coach for Game 2 of this one-sided NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers – nonetheless might be the most dangerous two-way guard in the league.
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His shot might be off, or he might delegate scoring duties when Durant, Curry or Green hit a hot streak, but he never complains, refuses to dominate the ball, and seldom loses his man. And that ego? What ego? For a player who scorched the Kings for 37 points in a quarter two seasons ago, who is a three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA selection, who arguably is the game’s premier shooter not named Curry, Thompson prefers to chat about his beloved dog, wisecrack on his quick-witted father, current Lakers analyst Mychal Thompson, or quietly slip out the side door.
“Klay has one of the most unusual personalities I’ve ever seen for someone with his abilities,” said Jerry West, the Warriors special consultant who emphatically opposed the once discussed trade of Thompson (and Green) for Kevin Love. “That probably serves him well. Publicity is not what motivates him. He doesn’t need praise, which is why he is so good on this team. He realizes that if you’re good enough, your play will get you the recognition and attention. And he just plays the game.”
At 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, with strong calves and long arms, Thompson is neither exceptionally quick nor explosive around the rim. But he has the stamina of a distance runner. He moves constantly and effortlessly, and surprises opponents with a clever assortment of deep jumpers, floaters, reverse layups and breakout dunks. Defensively he relies on his length and an uncanny sense of anticipation – often assigned to the opponent’s leading scorer.
Any concern over whether the soft-spoken shooting guard would feel unappreciated after the acquisition of Durant, or whether it would force him to subjugate his offense, evaporated before the preseason.
Thompson, the 11th overall draft pick in the Warriors’ terrific 2011 draft, devoted more time last offseason to improving his defensive techniques than expanding his already considerable offensive arsenal. When Durant arrived in the Bay Area, Thompson, 27, was among those offering a welcome mat.
“A lot of people question whether my son is happy here in his role with the Warriors, because with Durant now, there are so many scorers,” said Mychal Thompson, the No. 1 pick in the 1978 draft and valuable contributor on two Lakers championship teams. “But I compare Klay with how James Worthy was with the Lakers. At times, James was our best player. Other times he was the third option behind Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and Magic (Johnson). And the only thing that mattered to James Worthy was winning. It’s not about whose team it is, who is going to get the most touches, it’s about the championships. That’s the same attitude Klay has.”
The combination of Thompson’s stingy defense and offensive resurgence is just more bad news for the Cavaliers, who are one Friday defeat from being swept 4-0 and enabling the Warriors to celebrate the NBA’s first perfect postseason run in the middle of Cleveland’s Quicken Loans arena.
After two dominating performances by the Warriors in Oracle Arena, the Cavs threatened to salvage an altogether dreadful offseason with a Game 3 victory, thus, at least ensuring a Game 5 back in Oracle Arena. But not so fast. Similar to the Warriors seventh game collapse a year ago, including the sequence when a less-than-healthy Curry couldn’t elude the taller, slower Love on the perimeter for a crucial field goal, Kyrie Irving’s one-on-one, stepback jumper in the waning seconds was effectively contested by the bigger, stronger Thompson.
“I think I play with great length,” explained Thompson, who also tossed in 30 points. “I think I just did a good job of not falling for any of his moves, because he’s real shifty. Just stayed in front of him and luckily he missed the shot.”
And those heated in-house shooting contests between Curry, Thompson and Durant? Who most often prevails? Here, too, the Warriors stick together like super glue. One day it’s Curry, the next it’s Thompson, the time after that it’s Durant.
West, who called from his cellphone while changing planes, suggested the Warriors’ selflessness, versatility and unusual number of good passers distinguish them from other talented squads. “This is a very talented team,” he added, “and it’s a better team than it was a year ago. People say we don’t have shot blockers. That’s wrong. We led the league in blocked shots. The game is just completely different these days. People need to realize it. If they don’t, well, they should.”