Anything written about Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson in regards to these NBA Finals needs to be couched by saying that the fact he’s even out on the floor is impressive, and inspiring.
Thompson missed two full seasons thanks to a pair of serious lower-body injuries and he worked slowly to get back out on the floor. There were some that wondered if he would ever make a full return, just as there were some that wondered if the Warriors’ trio of Thompson, Draymond Green and Steph Curry would ever make it back to the Finals following a couple of down seasons.
Both of those things happened, and they’re both worthy of acknowledgment, and even celebration. But, with that said, the Warriors will simply need more from Thompson — aka the second “Splash Brother” — moving forward if they’re going to raise their fourth banner under the tutelage of Steve Kerr.
To say that Thompson has been cold over the first two games of the Finals would be an understatement. In the 69 minutes he played during those two games, Thompson connected on just 10 of his 33 shots from the floor (including going four of 19 in Game 2), and he hit just four of his 15 attempts from long range. I have recorded just 26 total points, five rebounds and four assists. Thompson was largely a non-factor in both of the games. Despite Thompson’s struggles, the Warriors won Game 2 on Sunday night, 107-88, after dropping Game 1.
Now, Thompson missing shots is different than a lot of other players missing shots, because his sheer presence out on the floor commands defensive attention thanks to the reputation he has established for himself over the course of his career. So even when he’s not knocking down shots himself, he’s helping to generate open opportunities for his teammates, as he did here:
Thompson isn’t directly involved in the play, but he draws Jaylen Brown away from the action. Brown doesn’t want to leave Thompson open, and that in turn opens up a driving lane for Curry coming off of the dribble handoff. Value like that doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but Thompson brings it in spades. He’s even more valuable for the Warriors, though, when he’s knocking down shots at a high clip — like he did in Golden State’s close out games against the Dallas Mavericks (32 points on 12 of 25 shooting) and Memphis Grizzlies (30 points on 11 of 22 shooting).
So, how can Thompson get back to that? Maybe by slowing things down, a bit. It seems like he has been pressing ever so slightly in the Finals, so far. It almost seems like he’s so eager to knock down the big shots we’re all accustomed to seeing him hit that he’s forcing things at times. He also seems to be allowing frustration to creep in, as he could be seen slapping his hands together and shaking his head as the misses started to pile up on Sunday night.
Boston’s defense certainly deserves some credit for Thompson’s struggles in the series so far. They weren’t the league’s best defensive team during the regular season for no reason, after all, and they’ve done a commendable job of limiting his looks. However, if you go back and look at Thompson’s misses from Game 2, you’ll see a lot of makeable shots — especially makeable for Thompson. Like this one:
And this one:
Those are shots we’ve seen Thompson knock down countless times over the course of his career. So clearly he’s capable of it. While it might be slightly oversimplifying things to say that he just needs to do a better job of converting on his attempts at him, there is at least some truth to that. After all, the NBA isn’t called a “make or miss league” for nothing.
When Thompson is making shots, the Warriors are extremely tough to topple. When he’s not, well, they’re still aren’t easy to defeat, but they become more vulnerable. In addition to Thompson simply settling in and finding a rhythm, it’s also obviously on coach Kerr to continue to put him in position to succeed. In Game 3, he might even consider running a few more direct sets for Thompson in order to try to get him going.
It’s especially important for Thompson to make shots in order to maximize his value to the Warriors at this point in time, as he has yet to return to form as the dominant defender he once was. Perhaps he will again, but he’s a step slower than he used to be on that end now, and that step takes him from being a lockdown perimeter defender to just an above-average one. The Warriors even opted to have him guard Boston bigs like Al Horford on some possessions, as opposed to deploying him on perimeter threats like Jaylen Brown. In the past, if Thompson wasn’t making his shots, he could make up for it defensively, but that isn’t the case currently.
Again, this isn’t meant as a knock on Thompson, but the facts can’t be ignored. He simply needs to be better than he was in Games 1 and 2. He’d acknowledge as much himself. Playing alongside the game’s best shooter in Curry, opportunities are always going to be there for Thompson, and it’s up to him to capitalize. His ability to do so could go a long way toward determining which team ultimately gets to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy this season.