Three-Pointers: Klay Thompson’s career night prevents second Spurs comeback
The Warriors defeated the Spurs 100-91 in Game 2 on Wednesday to even their Western Conference semifinals series at one game apiece.
• Déjà vu. As the Spurs erased most of a 19-point halftime deficit with a 14-2 push in the third quarter, the dreadful Groundhog Day question was unavoidable: “The Warriors aren’t really going to choke down the stretch again, are they?” It’s not a thought anyone really wants to have, let alone verbalize, not when a care-free, fresh-faced, gun-slinging Golden State squad has so firmly entrenched itself as the easiest team to root for in the playoffs. But recent history – a brutal collapse in Game 1 against the Spurs and a series of terrible turnovers in Game 6 against the Nuggets — plus the Warriors’ youth and relative lack of playoff experience necessitated the uneasiness.
Déjà vu wound up being the lasting impression even though Golden State didn’t actually crumble. The Warriors steadied themselves, maintaining a solid lead throughout the fourth quarter to take home a road win that lacked the late-game dramatics of their double-overtime loss Monday night. The “We’ve seen this before” sentiment came not from another magical Spurs comeback but from the memory of the Warriors’ scintillating Game 2 performance against the Nuggets.
That game, you might remember, saw Golden State score 131 points, shoot 64.6 percent as a team and 56 percent from deep, numbers that haven’t been achieved on the road in years and years. The same Warriors team that forgot about a last-second game-winner from Andre Miller in Game 1 against the Nuggets shook off Manu Ginobili’s Game 1 heroics, jumping out early Wednesday thanks in large part to Klay Thompson, who finished with a game-high 34 points (on 13-for-26 shooting, including eight-for-nine from deep) and 14 rebounds.
“This is who my team is,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said in a televised, post-game conference. “They were on edge. They were excited after Game 1. They didn’t need any pep talks. It took about five seconds and they looked around and said we could do this. To their credit, they responded.”
The first question every underdog asks itself: Can we hang? That’s the most difficult question, and one that often isn’t answered in the affirmative. Because the Warriors answered that question early in Game 1 against the Spurs they could reasonably focus on the fact they had been in a position to give away a game against one of the league’s elite teams in their building rather than dwell on the fact they did give it away. The Spurs left Game 1 relieved, not triumphant. The Warriors seemingly left emboldened, not shattered.
“Trials and tribulations are transportation for where you’re going,” Jackson said. “Game 1 made us better. We didn’t panic, we made plays.”
Golden State didn’t play mistake-free down the stretch, committing four turnovers and shooting just 6-for-16 in the fourth quarter, but they did more than enough to retain control, in stark contrast to their frenetic play down the stretch of their last two games. That resolve blunted San Antonio’s attempts to build momentum. The end game fizzled out as the Spurs either turned the ball over or came up empty throughout the game’s final four minutes.
“Coach told us to have amnesia at halftime,” Stephen Curry said of the Warriors’ play. “That’s basically it.”
• Perfect timing. Thompson picked a hell of a night to have the game of his life. Earlier this season, The Point Forward tabbed Thompson as one of the three players from the 2011 draft class most likely to blossom into an All-Star, but this timely, tangible production from a 23-year-old against one of the league’s better defenses was truly special.
As unpredictable and pleasantly surprising as this outburst was, it’s difficult for Thompson to receive his full due when Curry has set the bar so high with multiple extraterrestrial performances over the last two weeks. So take a moment to process the full scale and impact of his game: Thompson had 29 points at halftime, including five second-quarter three-pointers, and he turned a three-point lead into a 19-point margin over 11 second-quarter minutes. His shooting swung the momentum and, as noted above, there would be no reverse swing the other way.
“You ride a guy who is feeling that hot,” Curry said. “It was a lot of fun to watch him get us that huge lead in the first half.”
A second-year guard out of Washington State, Thompson scored more points Wednesday than he’s ever scored in an NBA game (his regular season career-high is 32). He grabbed more rebounds than ever before, too, shattering his regular season career-high of nine. On top of that, he defended Tony Parker for stretches, helping limit the All-Star guard from getting the Spurs’ offense functioning at top capacity.
“I try to be the most complete player I can be,” Thompson said.
“That is in the discussion for one of the greatest halves ever,” Jackson said of Thompson’s first half. “Not only what he did offensively but what he did defensively. You slow it down, you see the multiple effort plays, you see the attention to detail defensively. He’s playing a future Hall of Fame and he’s making him work for everything. That’s a tough task.”
Positive reinforcement is rarely as blatant as when a coach praises a shooter for his effort on the defensive end, but Thompson surely earned the praise in full. There’s no shortchanging his offensive impact, though. The long-range barrage blew open the game and helped cover for what was Curry’s worst shooting performance of the playoffs.
“I thought it was polite of them to at least take turns and not both be on fire on the same night,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Maybe the next iteration is that neither one of them will be hot in Game 3, that’s what I’m hoping. … Klay was unbelievable. A lot of those shots were tough. Some of them were wide open because of mistakes but other ones were difficult shots, contested or off-balance. He knocked them down. That’s what the playoffs are about. “
Jackson was happy to go barb-for-barb with Popovich: “Offensively, I’ve said I’ve got the greatest shooting backcourt that’s ever played the game. Call my bluff.”
This is the worst nightmare for any team that must gameplan for a superstar-level offensive player like Curry. There’s only so much attention that can be paid to one guy if a legitimate second option emerges. The Warriors have gotten contributions from everywhere — Jarrett Jack, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green — during the postseason but Thompson’s explosion is the most terrifying because of the purity of his stroke. How do you stop a team with two players that can put up 20+ point halves with the flick of their wrists?
Post script: Afterward, Thompson seemed most pleased with the statistic you would least expect on a torrid night like this, his three fouls. After fouling out in Game 1, a key factor in San Antonio’s comeback, Thompson said he remembered the words of his father, former NBA player Mychal Thompson, who regularly warns him about the evils of foul trouble. “I probably gave him a hemorrhage,” Thompson joked.
• Silliness from Steph. Sure, this might not have been a signature night from Curry, but he didn’t totally lay an egg, finishing with 22 points (on 7-for-20 shooting). One of his two three-pointers was straight out of a Rucker Park exhibition: Less than three minutes into the game he used a high screen to step into a three off the dribble (and off just one foot). C’mon, man. That ain’t fair.