SAN FRANCISCO — Philadelphia 76ers guard Danny Green couldn’t wait to see Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson back on the court after over two years away from the game due to recovering from a torn ACL, followed by a ruptured Achilles a year later.
The origin of Thompson’s 177-game absence occurred in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals between the Warriors and Toronto Raptors. Green was a member of that Raptors championship team, and he was whistled for a foul after he attempted a chase-down block on Thompson. The collision caused the five-time All-Star to land awkwardly on his left leg, tearing his ACL.
“If I can take that play back, I would,” Green told Yahoo Sports on Sunday night. “No one wants to see a great player go down, and no one wants to be the cause of that. It wasn't intentional. I’m glad that he’s back. The game has missed him.”
In Thompson’s season debut Sunday, he registered 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting and 3-of-8 from 3-point range in 20 minutes in the Warriors' 96-82 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The sharpshooter wasn’t hesitant with his shot selections. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the first play of the game was drawn up to get Thompson to move the ball, but he received the ball and instead drove to the basket and converted a layup 40 seconds into the game.
“He wasn’t shy, was he?” Kerr asked in jest. “Not that we would ever expect Klay to be shy, but I was amazed at his poise out there and his confidence after being out for so long.”
Green, a three-time NBA champion, said he felt bad about his role in Thompson losing significant time. Initially, there was a sizable sector of Warriors fans who believed his contact with Thompson in the air was a dirty play.
“When it first happened, I thought I blocked the ball,” Green told Yahoo Sports. “I thought it was a clean block and then he went down, I was like, ‘Man, he’s hurt. Let me make sure he’s OK.’ Some of the guys on the sidelines were upset. A lot of fans were upset. Obviously, I got a lot of backlash for it. But I'm trying to make a clean play on the ball, and I just wanted to make sure he was good. ... And then he came back on the court to shoot his free throws, and that's when I thought he was fine.
“I didn't know that he tore anything until after the game, which was a tough blow. It was tough to hear what was being said, but I didn't look at myself as the victim. My concern was for him. Their fans are great fans. They’re going to encourage their team. And anybody that tries to hurt or do anything to the other 10 or 13 players, they're gonna fight for them. So, I got some heated emotions from some of the fans, but every time I've spoken about the incident, I've stated that it was not purposeful at all.”
Thompson was cheered whenever he touched the ball. His crossover dunk over Lamar Stevens late in the second quarter was the highlight of the evening. In his postgame news conference, he was vividly emotional and humble.
“That was a very special moment,” Thompson said of the reception he received during starting lineup introductions. “I'll never forget. I'll never forget this night. I'll never forget the reception the Warrior fans gave us, especially myself. Gosh, it was fun. It was worth every single day of being away and in that squat rack or on that shuttle board and all the conditioning days. It was worth every single moment. I was so grateful to just compete again. It's been a long road, but I'm also just proud of myself for persevering.”
It’s been a tumultuous two-year period for one of the NBA's greatest two-way players. The way he plays the game requires a top-level fitness capacity and a work ethic second to none. It was that same work ethic that helped him get back into the lineup.
And that determination is admirable, Green said.
“For him to get back, it took a lot of persistence, man,” Green told Yahoo Sports. “It took resilience. He's a great player, so I never doubted that. He’s a true warrior, no pun intended. A lot of people, including myself and the fans, are excited that he’s back. We’ve all been looking forward to seeing Klay be the Klay that we have known him to be.”