For the second straight season, the Golden State Warriors are heading to the NBA Finals. And WSU alumnus Klay Thompson is a major reason why they have the opportunity to defend their championship in a rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Thompson scored 21 points in the series-clinching, game seven win over Oklahoma City on Monday, once again playing a crucial role during a critical stretch of the game to help power his team to victory.
Despite facing a hostile crowd, the Thunder came out of the gate strong, opening up a five-point lead at the end of the first quarter that stretched out to 13 points with seven minutes to go in the half. Up until that point, Klay had been 0-for-7, including 0-for-3 from beyond the arc.
Then Klay got hot.
With the game having the feeling of potentially getting away from the Warriors, Thompson made three of Golden State's next four baskets -- all of them from deep -- to power an 11-2 run that closed the gap to four. Then, after an OKC spurt pushed the Thunder lead back to 11, Klay started another GSW run with yet another three that started a 9-3 stretch that allowed the Warriors to close the half within six.
Klay had scored 12 of his team's 23 points, allowing the Warriors to maintain contact with the Thunder and setting up that massive third quarter -- in which Golden State outscored OKC 29-12 with Steph Curry doing Steph Curry things -- that would provide a cushion heading into the fourth that the Thunder would never seriously threaten.
Oh, and he spent most of the night guarding Russell Westbrook, who scored just 19 points on 7-of-21 shooting.
It was a perfect example of why Klay is so stinking great, and absolutely perfect for the Warriors: He gave his team exactly what it needed when it needed it without needing to dominate the ball for 40 minutes.
“In the playoffs, it can be ugly,” Thompson said. “It’s not easy to come across good looks all the time, so you’ve got to continue to move without the ball and trust in your teammates that they’re going to get you open. For me, I like to think it’s just a matter of time before I knock in a few. When that happens, my confidence is back.
“In Game 7, there’s no time to be down on yourself.”
Of course, if his team needs him to dominate the ball, he proved in game six that he could do that, too. With the Warriors facing elimination and Curry having a pretty terrible night, Klay scored 41 points powered by 11-for-18 shooting from beyond the arc. That set an NBA record for 3s in a playoff game.
“I knew that those first three minutes, I wouldn’t say necessarily could win us the game, but they could obviously go out and turn that eight-point lead into 15 or 17. Then, you’re pretty much done,” Curry said at the shootaround on Monday. “Knowing the sense of urgency, I didn’t want to pressure him, but I wanted to give him that confidence.
“I told him to ‘do what you do,’ and he did that.”
Leading to Warriors owner Joe Lacob doing this in the middle of a hallway after the game:
All told, Klay averaged 29.7 points in the Warriors' three elimination games. How good was he?
"Thompson was the most consistent Warriors player in the West finals and probably has been the league’s best two-way player during the entire NBA playoffs," wrote Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. If the NBA gave out an MVP award for the conference finals, Klay would have won it.
Now, the Warriors get a few days off to recover from an incredibly hard-fought series before taking on the well-rested Cavaliers, who finished off the Toronto Raptors last week. Game one of the finals, from Oakland, is on Thursday at 6 p.m. PT on ABC.
Here's to hoping we can get a repeat of this in September:
Go Klay! Go Cougs!
Photo via WSU Athletic Communications