Klay Thompson's return is a feel-good story, yet his Finals splash is still missing

·Columnist
·4 min read

There are myriad reasons for the epic Boston Celtics fourth-quarter comeback/Golden State Warriors collapse in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

It takes more than one player, on either side, to account for Boston’s 17-0 run that turned a 12-point deficit into a 120-108 statement. This was the resilient brilliance of the Celtics. This was the bumbling fumbling of the Warriors.

This was also the last thing that Klay Thompson fought so long and hard to get back to the Finals to be involved with. It wasn’t all Klay’s fault Thursday night. He wasn't immune from criticism either.

Thompson had a disastrous fourth quarter, posting a team-worst minus-27 in the period. He hit just two shots, one of them after the game was all but decided. On the night, he was minus-9 and went just 6-of-14 from the field for 15 points.

“I missed a couple great looks,” Thompson said afterward. “... I missed some [defensive] rotations … it’s never fun and it hurts on the biggest stage.”

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) shoots against Boston Celtics center Daniel Theis (27) during the first half of Game 1 of basketball's NBA Finals in San Francisco, Thursday, June 2, 2022. (AP Photo/John Hefti)
Like his teammates, Warriors guard Klay Thompson had a forgettable fourth quarter in a collapse against the Celtics in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Thompson finished with 15 points. (AP Photo/John Hefti)

Just seeing Thompson return to the biggest stage was a feel-good moment for these Finals and a marker of accomplishment for the player. Three years ago, in a Game 6 Finals loss to Toronto, Thompson blew out his ACL and crumbled to the court. It signaled the possible end of the Warriors dynasty, what with the series loss to the Raptors and Kevin Durant leaving for Brooklyn. Thompson would miss the entire 2019-20 season only to return and then tear his Achilles which cost him the 2020-21 campaign.

In December of this season, he was sent to the G League — Santa Cruz — mainly to just practice. He didn’t return to the NBA until January, an emotional return for a beloved “Splash Brother.”

He would play 32 regular season games, slowly kicking off rust. He posted a career low in 3-point shooting percentage (38.5%) and a near career low in field-goal shooting percentage (42.9%) but still managed 20.4 points per game.

So yeah, just being here was something. There’s a reason Thompson showed so much emotion when the Warriors closed out Dallas in the Western Conference finals.

“Just a surreal feeling,” Thompson said of reaching his fourth NBA Finals. “It’s hard to put into words. This time last year, I was just starting to jog again and get up and down the court. Now to be feeling like myself, feeling explosive, feeling sure in my movements. I’m just grateful.”

No time for sentiment now. There’s a Larry O’Brien Trophy to win and a battle-hardened Boston team trying to write its own story.

These playoffs have been a roller coaster for Thompson. Thirty-two points one game; 12 the next. But every time suspicions have risen about how effective the 32-year-old still is considering the past three years, he pops off like old times. He combined to make 16 threes and pour in 62 points in Golden State’s closeout victories over Memphis and Dallas, the old gunner there when it mattered most.

“It’s having the Game 6s that he has when everybody says he’s in a shooting slump,” teammate Draymond Green said. “It’s the way he carries himself in these situations that ultimately nothing comes in the way of him trying to win the game. It’s such a rare thing.”

No one ever doubted Thompson’s competitiveness. Just being here is proof of that. Yet he’s going to need every bit of it to bounce back in this series.

Armed with five previous Finals experiences, including three titles, he isn’t going to express too much outward concern about what happened Thursday.

“Well, you know, it’s first to four, not first to one,” Thompson said. “And we all have been through situations like this.”

That doesn’t mean a precious victory didn’t flitter away.

Just how great Thompson is as a player is a matter of debate. Oh, he’s great, but is he an all-time great or a guy who benefited from being the ideal running mate to an all-time great (Stephen Curry)?

Thompson didn’t make the NBA’s 75th anniversary team, meaning he wasn’t considered one of the top 75 players of all time. To Thompson, that was a snub. And a measure of motivation. The best way to make the Top 100 in a quarter century, is to continue to win. Golden State has a nice balance of experienced stars and young talent that could reboot the dynasty.

That will require consistent play from Thompson, who is back with fresh perspective and new appreciation for that biggest of stages and, perhaps, the desire to max it out now that he is here.

“It’s going to be very hard,” Thompson said. “Best part about it is we have another opportunity on Sunday.”

No one knows that more than Klay Thompson.

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