Klay Thompson is easy to overlook, especially because he plays for the Warriors. Stephen Curry does awe-inspiring things on a nightly basis. Draymond Green is both supremely talented and unabashedly loud. While they seem to enjoy the spotlight, Thompson appears to be more comfortable in the shadows off the court and has no problem doing thankless jobs on it. He might be one of the most underrated stars in the game because of it.
On Saturday, however, Thompson’s greatness was impossible to miss. His 41 points led the Warriors to a crucial 108-101 win that saved their season and allowed them to force a Game 7 at home.
Thompson wasn’t just good. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Curry and Green were on the court in one of the biggest games of the year and it was Thompson who made the biggest impact. His 41 points are the most in an elimination game since LeBron James had 45 against the Celtics in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals and he broke a playoff record by hitting 11 three-pointers.
Early on, when Curry was struggling and the Thunder threatened to run Golden State out of the building, it was Thompson who kept his team in it. When Curry started to heat up and needed someone else to help him trade punches with an Oklahoma City squad that refused to surrender, Thompson was the one who became that second threat. And finally, when the Warriors made their move late in the fourth quarter, he was the one who finally gave them the lead with 1:35 to go.
The offensive explosion came after the Thunder had done a terrific job containing him in previous matchups, too. Thompson was shooting 41 percent from the field and a measly 30 percent from beyond the arc. The physical defense Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson were playing on him was clearly bothering him but he missed some open shots as well. It seemed like Oklahoma City had him under control and a little rattled.
The Thunder probably thought that too, as they occasionally lost him in transition and didn’t close out as aggressively as they should have. It seems everyone forgot that he’s the player who once scored 37 points in a quarter. Thompson has slumps, just like every shooter, but he can heat up as quickly as he went cold and when he does, he can win a game on his own.
Klay Thompson saved the Warriors’ season, one three-pointer at the time, but there’s one more game left. If the Thunder bounce back and win on Monday, his performance will become a foot note on the story of how the best team in regular season history fell in the playoffs.
If Golden State does complete the comeback, however, this could be the moment in which everyone from die-hard to casual fan stops thinking of Thompson as “the other Splash Brother” and starts treating him as what he is: a star in his own right.
2 other things we learned
The Death Lineup lives
The Warriors’ ultimate weapon is the “Death Lineup,” a five-man unit formed by Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Green. Surprisingly, that group had struggled greatly against the Thunder, to the point where Steve Kerr decided to essentially shelve it for Game 5, going big with Andrew Bogut and Marreese Speights instead.
It wouldn’t have been shocking to see the same strategy on Saturday, but Kerr gave it another chance and the decision paid off. That group outscored the Thunder by 12 points in the 11 minutes it was on the court. It made most of its damage in the second half and was on the court late, when Golden State made its move and got the lead. Without it, the Thunder would have likely avoided the collapse and won the game.
Whether this means the Death Lineup has figured out Oklahoma City’s game plan or just had a good stretch is unclear, but expect Kerr to trot it out in Game 7 to find out.
The Thunder’s late-game collapses reared their ugly head
Oklahoma City lost 14 games in which they were ahead entering the fourth quarter, the most out of any team in the regular season. There were serious concerns about their late-game execution and how it could limit their ceiling as contenders. Then the playoffs rolled along and they suddenly appeared to have figured it all out. Against the Spurs in the semifinals, they prevailed in close games to advance and against the Warriors they had avoided collapses. Then Game 6 happened.
The Thunder were up were up seven with five minutes left. From that point on they committed six turnovers and went 1-for-5 from the field, with the sole make coming on a Roberson putback. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook struggled greatly and with no plan B but to give them the ball and watch them work in isolation situations, Oklahoma City simply had no chance late.
It’s an old problem but one that apparently is still very real. If the same happens in Game 7, it could cost them the season.
Play of the game
4 fun things you may have missed
* * *
SB Nation archives: The rise of the three