Klay Thompson's 'Game 6 Klay' runs deeper than one memorable game

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Why 'Game 6 Klay' runs deeper than one memorable game originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

BOSTON – When Klay Thompson scored 41 points, draining 11 3-pointers in the process, to lead the Warriors to a 108-101 victory in the Western Conference finals at Oklahoma City on May 28, 2016, a legend was born.

“Game 6 Klay.”

Thompson’s sharpshooting that night – the 11 3-balls were in NBA postseason record at the time – was essential to Golden State tying the series 3-3, setting up Game 7 at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors prevailed and advanced to the NBA Finals.

But is “Game 6 Klay” the result of a single game? Maybe a couple games? Is it myth or reality?

As Thompson and the Warriors aim to close out the Celtics in Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Finals Thursday night at TD Garden, it seemed worthwhile to examine Klay’s Game 6 performances dating back to Golden State’s first championship season in 2015.

It’s impressive, particularly regarding Thompson’s 3-point shooting.

“I realize I'm on a really good streak right now of Game 6s,” Thompson said Wednesday. “I don't know how long that will last. Hopefully, obviously tomorrow.

“It's obviously a nickname I earned. I want to live up to it. At the same time, I don't want to go in there and play hero ball. I'm just going to be in there and be myself, do what I've been doing the last few games. I know that will allow us to be successful.”

Thompson’s last Game 6 was two series ago, the closeout game of the Western Conference semifinals against the Grizzlies. He did the heavy lifting for the Warriors, dropping a team-high 30 points on 11-of-22 shooting, including 8-of-14 from deep. For good measure, he added eight rebounds and three blocks.

That was Klay’s first Game 6 opportunity since he tore his left ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals against the Raptors. He scored 30 points on 12 shots from the field in 32 minutes. Before leaving the game, he limped to the line and made two free throws that gave the Warriors an 85-80 lead with 2:22 left in the third quarter.

After Klay went into the locker room to cope with a devastating injury, Toronto outscored Golden State 34-25 to win the game and the series. Though Klay’s production was stellar, the outcome was disastrous.

But shooting was not a surprise. In three Game 6s in the 2019 postseason – against the Clippers, the Rockets and the Raptors – Thompson’s efficiency was remarkable. He scored 66 points, shooting 50.0 percent from the field, including 52.2 percent beyond the arc.

Remarkable, yes, but absolutely typical.

In eight Game 6s dating back to 2014-15, when Steve Kerr took over as head coach, Thompson is 69-of-141 from the field (48.9pct) – and 46-84 3p (54.8pct) from distance.

Klay’s absurd 3-point shooting in Game 6s contrasts with his excellent career postseason percentage of 41.1, and when the Game 6 totals are extracted, the career percentage drops to 40.0 (39.955, to be precise).

“I don't really know what to make of it, nor do I even take the time to think about it,” Kerr said. “It has nothing to do with (the coaching staff). Has nothing to do with strategy.

“It just has to do with Klay. He's got a killer instinct. He's really talented.”

“Killer instinct” in sports is best described as a ruthlessness that surfaces when victory is close enough to sense. Thompson can be streaky, but when he’s never more relentless than when his 3-ball is splashing. He wants to flood the opponent.

“I just know after doing this for so long, that killer instinct means just playing with incredible intensity, force and will,” Thompson said.

How else to explain Klay scoring 37 points in a quarter, with 27 of those points coming off nine triples? It was a regular-season game against the Kings, but that no-mercy mentality is with him each time he steps on the court.

Stephen Curry, who has the same mentality, was asked if after his woeful 3-point shooting in Game 5 on Monday there might be a “Game 6 Steph” performance ahead.

“I will in no way infringe upon that nickname for Klay,” Curry said. “I'm just going to do my job and try to help us get a win, enjoy what that would actually mean.

“But Game 6 Klay, I don't know how he's been able to do it. Just his personality; no moment is too big for him in terms of hooping, enjoying himself, embracing a hostile crowd. Or, if we're at home, enjoying the home atmosphere.”

RELATED: Warriors winning bench battle again will be crucial for Game 6

There is no physiological explanation. It’s just a thing that happens with astonishing frequency. Though Klay has experienced a couple wayward shooting nights in Game 6s, they’ve been more than offset by spectacular showings.

“Game 6 Klay” is a real thing, but Thompson does not wish to be singled out Thursday at TD Garden.

“I don't want to put any extra pressure on myself to live up to my name,” he said. “I just want to go out there and play free, trust my teammates. And I know great things will happen if I do those two things.”

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