Klay delivers robust performance in time of need for Warriors

Klay delivers robust performance in time of need for Warriors originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Klay Thompson finally was able to remind the Warriors, their fans and his critics that despite the anguish of the first few weeks, his best self still lives inside.

It took seven weeks of ugly basketball, several rounds of scorching assessment criticism, some candid self-examination, and the possibility of losing his starting role to prove it, but the longtime sharpshooter was on full display Thursday night in Los Angeles.

Though Thompson’s electrifying stretch in the third quarter wasn’t enough to prevent a 121-113 loss to the Clippers, but it provided enough momentum to keep the Warriors in the game until the final seconds.

More than anything, Klay’s performance – his first 30-point game this season, team-high-tying five assists, two steals – was an exceedingly welcome sight for a team that has spent a full month in the grip of despair.

“Klay was incredible tonight,” coach Steve Kerr said. “And it wasn't just the shot making. He made six or seven passes to Loon (Kevon Looney) diving, to Dario (Sarić) popping. He shot the shots that he should shoot, and he passed when he should pass. He just looked like himself, obviously.

“He got hot and then he hit a couple crazy shots. But that's who he's been.”

Thompson scored 16 of his season-high 30 points in six sizzling third-quarter minutes, single-handedly slashing a 16-point deficit to nine and giving the Warriors a reason to believe.

Given the absence of the suspended Draymond Green and the ongoing struggles of Andrew Wiggins, it’s essential that Thompson still can shower a good defense with a burst of buckets. His third quarter work – 5-of-6 shooting from the field, including 4-of-5 from deep – was reminiscent of so many nights over the years when he shot the Warriors for victory.

It's highly conceivable that Thompson, prideful as a lion, might have gotten a motivational boost from Kerr’s pregame decision to make a significant change in the starting lineup. Kerr replaced Green with Kuminga and Wiggins with rookie Brandin Podziemski. Thompson, shooting well below his career efficiency, was spared a move to the bench.

Which is something Klay could not have taken for granted. The lineup change came two days after Wiggins and Thompson were pulled from the closing lineup in Phoenix.

In his 12 years with the Warriors, Klay had never felt the sting of such a move. But his response was that, given the way he was playing, he “deserved” a seat on the bench.

Yet Thompson felt for Wiggins, whose season has been more tortured than his own.

“Brandon's been playing amazing so has JK,” Thompson said. “I feel for Wiggs. I know how competitive he is. It's not the end of world for him. I'm sure he'll be back in there before the year is over.

“I've been through slumps just like him. I try to encourage him. I’m going through one right now, not shooting up to my standards.”

That changed on this night. Thompson was 9-of-15 from the field, including 8-of-12 beyond the arc. In addition to a desire to avoid leaving the starting group, he also was refreshed by his return to his teenage roots in Southern California.

“Just realizing how lucky I am to play this game and take the bus to Staples Center. I went to high school down here,” Thompson said of his time at Santa Margarita High in Orange County. “We used to bus to Mater Dei or St. John’s Bosco, so this was a different feeling. That always brings me back to earth and makes me realize how lucky I am to be playing the game that I love.”

There was a lot to love, and it started with an early statement. Thompson scored Golden State’s first eight points, providing a quick 8-0 lead in a little more than two minutes.

It was Thompson’s third quarter, though, that truly shined. He was smart, efficient and active at both ends.

“Really the key when you watch Klay is, is he taking good shots? And is he moving the ball when people are open?” Kerr said. “And that's what I saw all night long tonight I thought he was phenomenal.”

The Warriors are trying to find an identity. They’re trying to see what works and what does not. For most of the season, Thompson has operated below his standard. This was a refreshing development, and it’s coming at a crucial time.

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