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Nearly a week later, Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson's insane, record-breaking 37-point third quarter in Friday's game vs. the Sacramento Kings is still one of the most talked about stories in the NBA. Thompson's performance was mind-boggling, reconfiguring many ideas of what a player can accomplish over just 12 minutes.
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One of the men whose record he broke believes that Thompson had a serious advantage in achieving his record. Hall of Famer George Gervin, who scored 33 points in a quarter for the San Antonio Spurs in 1978, spoke to Bleacher Report's Howard Beck about Thompson's achievement and what might have helped him best the Iceman:
First: "I said, 'Wowwwww, that's pretty impressive.'"
Then: "But I'd like to see him try to get 33 or 37 in a quarter when there wasn't no three-point line." [...]
When Gervin set the NBA record for points in a quarter—in the second quarter of a loss to the New Orleans Jazz, on April 9, 1978—there was no three-point arc. Its adoption was still a year away. Gervin accumulated his 33 points the old-fashioned way: on mid-range jump shots, slashes to the rim and free throws. If he scored three points on a play, it came with the help of a shooting foul—the "and-1."
The precise number of field goals and free throws Gervin made in that quarter is unclear. Neither the NBA's statistics database nor Basketball-Reference.com has the breakdown.
Beck made sure to emphasize on Twitter that Gervin is not drawing a line in the sand and was very impressed by Thompson on Friday and in general. Nevertheless, Gervin is making an argument that he believes in and it is perfectly acceptable to respond to his points.
In a general sense, Gervin is absolutely correct. The three-point line completely changed the form of NBA offenses, with the arc giving structure and creating defined spaces that did not necessarily exist (to the current degree, at least) in the twos-only era. Judging scoring records (or any record, really) requires understanding the specifics of how the sport was played at the time the totals were set.
For instance, these two players should not be criticized for their relationship to the three-point shot when they are both products of their era. Gervin's scoring record came the season before the NBA instituted the three-point line, but he did play 11 seasons over his combined ABA and NBA career during which the shot was legal. Over that time, he 27.1 percent from beyond the arc (122-of-451), never making more than 32 in a season or three in a single game. Still, Gervin came of basketball age at a time when the three-point shot was not a particularly common weapon in the sport. By contrast, Thompson has only known a basketball culture that values the triple, to the point where he could tailor his career to his shooting skills from a very early age. In short, Gervin can bring up how the three aided Thompson if he wants, but that would be like criticizing Gervin for taking advantage of holes in '70s defensive strategy. Players learn strengths based on what they have experienced in hundreds of games.
The second notable point in this debate comes from Gervin himself. As he explains to Beck, he set his 33-point single-quarter record while attempting to beat Denver Nuggets star David Thompson (no relation to Klay) for the 1977-78 scoring title. Gervin states that he knew he had to score a lot to match a 32-point quarter (13-of-14 FG, 6-of-6 FT) from Thompson earlier in the night (he eventually went for an absurd 73). With Gervin needing 58 points in total, he started shooting at every opportunity and broke Thompson's existing quarter-scoring record just seven hours later while finishing with 63 points on the night.
What Gervin doesn't mention, but what David Thompson did in a 2013 article for NBA.com, is that Gervin scored his 63 points on 23-of-49 shooting from the floor, a solid but by no means incendiary mark of efficiency. In other words, his record was the product of a specific effort to beat Thompson. It could be said that Klay Thompson's performance on Friday came in the flow of the game and stands out as a seemingly random occurrence not dependent on chasing some other total. From that perspective, Klay's 37-point quarter is purer than that of the Iceman.
That would be a troubling argument to make, though, because assigning moral worth to a set of stats tends to ignore the myriad factors that go into creating those numbers in the first place. Thompson's third quarter was worthy of all these plaudits when he had 27 points — the record is secondary to the thrilling experience and incredible nature of the event. Gervin and both Thompsons all did something amazing when they scored 32-plus points in a quarter, and deciding to turn their accomplishments into a divisive issue resembles the worst habits of sports fans and figures.
To his credit, Gervin seems to understand all this — he really is very complimentary of Thompson throughout Beck's article. We would be wise to follow that example instead of harping on the differences. Plus, even those should be celebrated.
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