No matter the question, equation, situation or possession, when it comes to the Golden State Warriors, the answer is always going to be Stephen Curry. Finals MVP Kevin Durant can shoot over the outstretched fingers of the opponents’ best defender; Draymond Green can redefine an entire NBA role; and Klay Thompson can make you question distance and time by scoring 60 points in 29 minutes—Oracle Arena will still always belong to Curry.
It makes sense that Curry and his buoyantly carefree, doesn’t-seem-possible-for-these-shots-to-even-be-attempted thrill ride of a basketball style is the Warriors’ identity. Who and what this team is today, aiming to win it’s third championship in four years, is only possible because of Curry and a career that beautifully blossomed and then blew up into something few could have predicted.
If Curry is the deep breath you take before watching him launch another shot from 45 feet without hesitation, Thompson is the breath you didn’t realize you were holding when he’s in rhythm. In the moments where Thompson is feeling it, the rest of the players on the floor as well as the arena itself and the entire world around it all seem to melt away, leaving only Thompson, ball, and hoop behind.
On a team like the Warriors, with two former League MVPs (Durant and Curry), two Finals MVPs (Durant and Andre Iguodala), four All-Stars (Durant, Curry, Green and Thompson) and an always-outspoken Defensive Player of the Year (Green), it isn’t a surprise that Thompson can still manage to slip under the radar but it would be a damn shame to miss out on the delight that is his off-court coolness mixed with his on-court wizardry.
Prior to Game 2, the Warriors didn’t think Thompson would play. Hobbled by a high-ankle sprain sustained in Game 1 when J.R. Smith dove for a loose ball and collided with him awkwardly, the adrenaline that had flowed through an overtime victory had been replaced with swelling and pain.
“I thought there was no chance he was playing,” Green told reporters after the game. “I even texted Nick Young [on Saturday] like, ‘Hey, man, I need big minutes out of you [in Game 2] because Klay ain’t playing.’ And he was like, ‘What? All right, I got you.’”
Of course, Thompson ended up playing in Golden State’s 122-103 Game 2 victory. Despite teammates saying his movements had been limited in the days prior, he logged 34 minutes and scored 20 points on 8-for-13 field goals. This performance was overshadowed as Curry scored a game-high 33 points and set the Finals record for three-pointers in a game, connecting on 9-of-17 attempts from beyond the arc.
While most of the questions after the game were about Curry’s accomplishment, Green singled out Thompson’s grit.
“He came out there and gutted through it,” he told reporters. “That’s just a microcosm of who [Klay] is. He’ll never get credit for it because he’s not going to physically beat you up. But [he’s] one of the toughest, if not the toughest guy for sure.”
Though Curry was — rightfully — the star of the evening, he also spoke about his teammate’s resolve to be on the floor. Mainly, he wanted to express how much an opportunity to compete for another championship means to Thompson.
“It’s The Finals,” Curry said. “He’s going to give it every shot to get his body right. Little known fact… Friday he was getting treatment and still tried to manage to walk out to the court and take a couple shots just to keep his rhythm. But he didn’t do much movement.
“It shows you kind of how much he loves the game and wants to be out there for us as a team and for himself and enjoy this moment. So it’s great to have him out there.”
In Golden State’s Game 3 victory on Wednesday, Thompson was, once again, an afterthought. Curry struggled from the floor in Cleveland, shooting just 3-for-16, including 1-for-10 from beyond the arc. Thompson played 41 minutes, scored just 10 points, but was a +14 and secured one of the most important rebounds of the game with just over a minute remaining. The rebound led to a Kevin Durant three-pointer that put the Warriors ahead by six and sealed the game for Golden State. In a road game where the Warriors took a 3-0 series lead, Thompson’s +/- was only bested by Durant who was a +15 on a night where he stole the show, putting on a magnificent performance as he scored 43 points on 15-for-23 field goals.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 7, 2018
Though difficult to imagine if you’ve seen his shot catch fire, Thompson often concedes attention on the court because of who he shares it with. Away from the floor, however, he’s easily one of the most entertaining players in the League, mostly because he isn’t trying to be.
If it isn’t Curry, it’s Durant. Sometimes it is both clicking on all cylinders, making everything look devastatingly difficult and all but impossible for the opponent on the other end of the floor. With teammates like this, even the most gifted of scorers can get lost in the shuffle.
“As you’ve seen with K.D. picking it up [in Game 3] and Steph picking it up in Game 2, they all have the ability to [go off] — we can’t ever forget about Klay,” LeBron James told the media after Wednesday’s loss. “He’s a guy that scored 40 in a quarter before. That’s the luxury of having guys like that, that can always — any given moment, they can kind of go off for a game.”
Though difficult to imagine if you’ve witnessed the spectacle when his shot catchs fire, Thompson often concedes attention on the court because of who he shares it with. Away from the floor, however, he’s easily one of the most entertaining players in the league, mostly because he isn’t trying to be.
Whether it’s the story of how he spent his time in the Hamptons when the team was recruiting Durant in 2016—sneaking off to play tennis, go to the beach and ride his bike alone, being spotted kicking soccer balls with a gardener when the rest of the team joined the party—or when he was interviewed by local news in New York about scaffolding when the team was on a road trip, or clips of him enjoying a trip to China for an Anta (Chinese sneaker brand that he endorses) promotional tour in the offseason, there’s a level of relatability to Thompson that belies the otherworldly talent he possesses on the basketball court. Thompson seems to easily shrug off the level of fame he has attained, remaining low-key despite the attention, and never getting caught in the circus.
“He doesn’t complain,’ said Durant. “He’s low maintenance. He doesn’t really care for the celebrity or the fame that comes with being an NBA player. He just works hard every day, comes and plays defense hard. And he cares. You see that. Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t with Klay, but we know it’s there all the time because he’s so consistent every day.
“[He’s] somebody who just genuinely loves to play ball and wants to do it as best as he can, because he knows his time is short,” he said. “So somebody who embraces every single day, that’s toughness to me.”
The NBA lifestyle is a good one. NBA life in the Bay seems to be the best of the best when it comes to professional sports. Still, what drives Thompson is the desire to be on the last team standing when it is all over.
“I like the games that matter the most,” Thompson said after Game 2. “Whether it’s the NBA playoffs or The Finals or Western Conference Finals, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I definitely remember the championship-winning games.
“I just like the games that have the most juice and matter the most. Those are the ones that I vividly remember the most.”
Though Thompson’s ankle injury threatened his availability for Game 2, Kerr didn’t sound surprised with his 20-point performance, nor the 34 minutes he ended up playing. While Curry and Durant often lead Warriors headlines, everyone in the organization understands the depth of Thompson’s motivation, even if he goes about his business in his own laid back way when it isn’t game time.
“He’s there every single day. He’s never missed a playoff game,” Kerr said. “He’s only missed a handful of games in his entire career. Some of them were because I insisted on giving him a rest…But he’s just there. He’s like a machine every day at practice. Unless he sleeps in and misses practice, which he’s done a couple times.”
When Green said Thompson was “one of the toughest guys, if not the toughest guy I’ve ever played with” it was a great quote after a gutsy performance. It also served to pull back the curtain on how the team values and views Thompson behind-the-scenes.
“A lot of people think of toughness and they think bravado, but Toughness is also a quiet confidence and a resilience.” Kerr said. “ I think Klay embodies that. He’s there for us every night. Doesn’t say much. But we can count on him every day.”