Even though the Warriors lost to the Blazers on Saturday night, they are still in control of the series without the reigning MVP, and that has a lot to do with the underrated Klay Thompson, a team-oriented guard who is nevertheless capable of taking over for long stretches. In January, he set a league record with 37 points in a single quarter against Sacramento. Now, Thompson has been given an even bigger chance to prove himself after Steph Curry injured himself during Game 4 of the first round, and he has delivered. Even in a system that usually features the superlative Curry and extremely versatile Draymond Green, Thompson has found another level when it matters most.
In the three contests prior to Game 2 of the Blazers series, Thompson made 21 of 36 three-point attempts for an incredible 58% success rate. In fact, he became the first player to hit 7 three-pointers in 3 consecutive playoff games. He started Game 1 against Portland so hot that he managed to outscore the entire Blazers roster 18-17 during the first quarter. The Warriors had the luxury of a large lead after three quarters, so coach Steve Kerr was able to rest many regulars down the stretch. After the game, Kerr said,
“I think honestly he’s becoming Reggie Miller-like in that regard, and what that does for our team is dramatic. It opens up driving and passing lanes for other people.”
It goes without saying that Thompson is hitting his open looks. It must be doubly deflating to the Blazers that he is also converting circus shots. C.J. McCollum had a good defensive series against the Clippers, keeping the opposition to a 2.5% lower field goal percentage. He has had his hands full with Thompson, though.
Among Thompson’s highlights was a buzzer beater to cap off the first half of Game 1 courtesy of an assist from Green. Then, in the last 30 seconds of the third quarter, Thompson was fouled and banked in a runner anyway. Incidentally, Klay’s brother Trayce is a baseball player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and hit a monster home run during that night’s game against Tampa Bay. Considering that his father is two-time NBA champion Mychal Thompson, the phrase “athletically gifted family” is an understatement.
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One strategy that is working for Thompson is getting open for catch-and-shoot opportunities. As well as he has played, Thompson doesn’t compare to Curry as a ball handler. However, the Warriors are able to work the ball inside and make smart passes to set him up effectively. Portland had some success blanketing him in the first half of Game 2 as they sent Gerald Henderson and Maurice Harkless at him. Even Ed Davis was able to deny him at the rim during one sequence, but during the fourth quarter Thompson was drilling big threes once more. He tied the game at 91 and then gave the Warriors a 94-93 lead during crunch time. After Golden State emerged victorious, Thompson commented on his early struggles.
“I was taking some bad shots. I stuck to the game plan.” Indeed, the Warriors erased an 11-point deficit during the final period of play and Thompson ended the night with 27 points.
It might be possible to contain Thompson for short stretches, but he proved against Houston that even strong defenders have trouble doing so for long. Thompson only shot 4-14 during Game 1 on April 16, but after that the Rockets certainly struggled with the white-hot Thompson. James Harden and Patrick Beverley each had the tough assignment at times.
During Game 5 of the Rockets series, stopper Trevor Ariza had no answer for Thompson making a cut, getting a well-timed pass from Shaun Livingston, and swishing from 30 feet away. While his strength is set shots, Thompson also beat Ariza before cutting through multiple defenders for a layup. Ariza was discombobulated enough that he inadvertently hit Thompson in the head while trying to contest a shot.
Thompson has been nothing short of instant offense for Golden State. Even during Saturday’s Game 3 loss in Portland, Thompson racked up 35 points by shooting 50% from the field and 5-9 from behind the arc. His first quarter alone was an 18-point explosion worthy of the MVP himself and reminiscent of his performance in Game 1. When Thompson’s man is being screened by a big like Anderson Varejao, it’s all the easier for him to exploit offensive opportunities.
Thompson’s teammates are versatile enough to find him for open looks and also anticipate the pass when defenses collapse on him. He can even be a factor on defense, as indicated by Damian Lillard’s poor shooting against him in Game 1.
In terms of Offensive Box Plus-Minus (OBPM), Thompson is the second most effective scorer in the postseason thus far behind only Kawhi Leonard. He gets overlooked mostly because of the Warriors’ impressive roster, but Thompson is continuing to show why he’s a deserving All-Star in his own right.
photo via llananba