The secret to Klay Thompson's epic record-breaking performance
OKLAHOMA CITY – Before he leaned back in his chair in the visitor's locker room at Chesapeake Energy Arena to check his phone for text messages and social media mentions, Klay Thompson revealed the secret to the night in which he authored the kind of performance that could make him a legend in the Bay Area for life – should the Golden State Warriors complete this incredible comeback and return to the NBA Finals. As he quietly got dressed, Thompson rolled up a pair of Stance socks with a cartoonish image of the green, pointy-eared Jedi master from Star Wars, Yoda. Thompson packed his lucky socks especially for Game 6, knowing he'd need something a little extra to fend off the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"I brought my Yoda socks to bring out my Jedi powers," Thompson told The Vertical after a performance in which the least heralded, but no less important, member of the Splash Brothers saved Golden State's season.
The Force was indeed strong in Thompson as he nailed an NBA-postseason-record 11 3-pointers and scored a playoff-career-high 41 points to lead the Warriors to a 108-101 victory against the Thunder that forced a Game 7 and restored that swagger that appeared all but vanished the last time they were in this building. But the impetus for this stunning momentum shift actually occurred in the locker room after a humiliating loss last Sunday that put Golden State down 3-1 and threatened to turn the Warriors' desires to repeat in leave-no-doubt fashion into disaster and their surprisingly long list of haters into giddy, I-told-you-so gloaters.
🚨🚨 Klay Thompson Yoda Socks 🚨🚨
(via @warriors) pic.twitter.com/IOdb8wJvZE
— NBCSN (@NBCSN) May 29, 2016
Draymond Green, the team's emotional leader and portable electrical charger, had been horrendous in the first two games in Oklahoma City – so mentally frazzled and uncharacteristically lethargic that his contributions had been reduced to kicking Thunder players in various parts of the body. But Green wasn't broken and he didn't want his teammates to share in his rut and let their spirits rot. Thompson recalled how the locker room fell silent and Green demanded their attention before heading back to Oakland for Game 5.
"It was a terrible feeling after we took that 'L.' Draymond stood up and said, 'Let's embrace this. We've made history all year and we can do it again, to get where we want to go,' " Thompson told The Vertical, before adding, "Embrace the challenge, that's what champions do."
The Warriors extended their chase for immortality for at least another game but also kept intact an impressive statistic that has exemplified the mental fortitude of this team over the past four seasons: Since Thompson, Green, Stephen Curry, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut came together, Golden State has won a road game in all 10 playoff series. Before they hit the floor of an arena that caused them so much embarrassment, Thompson and Curry huddled with each other on the bench for a few minutes, going over strategy – attacking Oklahoma City's big men inside, making the Thunder pay for switching – and offering encouragement to one another.
"We just told each other, be aggressive," Thompson told The Vertical. "Go out there and do what we do."
Curry was slow to get going, but Thompson kept shooting and shooting until his shots eventually started falling. When they did, he helped the Warriors claw back from 13 down in the first half, and eight with just nine minutes left. Thompson described his chemistry with Curry as "telepathic" since they've been playing together for so long, so Curry didn't need a cue to determine when it was his turn to take over. And Thompson felt comfortable to catch a pass from teammate Andre Iguodala and, without hesitation, pull up and drain that crushing, tie-breaking 3-pointer over Kevin Durant's outstretched arm to silence a louder-than-usual crowd.
"Unbelievable. It's an amazing, feeling. I'm going to enjoy it now. Great times," Thompson told The Vertical. "We're going to enjoy this tonight, but quick turnaround. We realize this team is going to be hungry on Monday and we didn't come this far to end it on Monday."
Thompson is easily the most chill bro of the Warriors, a hardcore Harry Potter fan who enjoys quiet time with his bulldog, Rocco. The Star Wars fandom he revealed after the greatest game of his career was new to most, even as he has been building for such a breakout moment throughout this postseason. Curry was in and out of the first two rounds, battling injuries to his ankle and knee, and suffered a swollen elbow in the second game of this series. Through it all, whether Curry was sidelined, slogging or spectacular, Thompson hasn't shied away from picking up the slack. Nor has Thompson had a problem getting out of the way to let the MVP shine.
Remember, Thompson was right there, happily pointing his finger at Curry when the game's best showman returned from his right knee injury and erupted for a playoff-record 17 points in overtime, shouting to that crowd in Portland, "I'm back." Thompson has never tried to steal the spotlight nor resented having to wait for his chances to peek out from the background. Even if fans don't always notice, the rest of the league certainly has, as the two-time All-Star earned third-team All-NBA honors for the second year in a row.
"He takes a backseat a lot of times, but to have a performance like that with our backs against the wall, to kind of save us to get over that hump, it don't get no better than that," Green told The Vertical.
Plus, being the second-best shooter of all time isn't so bad when the best happens to be your teammate. "Winning trumps all that so much more," Thompson told The Vertical about the lack of attention. "All that will come with winning. I realize that. I'm just focused on getting to the championship again. All the extra stuff, the stuff off the court, it will come. Just be patient. It's not my top priority. I just love to hoop."
Thompson keeps the game so simple that he almost seems oblivious to the pressure, maintaining a stoic look that rarely changes if he's rolling or off track. This series has brought some frustrating moments, but he never lost his confidence and has found ways to contribute if his shots go sideways.
The best two-way player at his position, Thompson has taken on the tiring assignment of chasing around the electrifying Russell Westbrook, digging in even if he sometimes ends up on the wrong end. Westbrook might've laughed off Curry's often underrated defense, but he couldn't have if posed the same question about Thompson, who consistently finds the energy to drop in his defensive stance and square up. On offense, Thompson isn't only adept at catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, he has also figured out a way to get his release off so swiftly, so smoothly, that it almost looks like a shoot-and-catch as he guides the ball toward the hoop before it's secure in his hands.
"All Klay needs is a sliver of daylight," Curry said.
The Thunder might come to regret giving the Warriors that same "sliver of daylight." Durant and Westbrook have never been so close to returning to the NBA Finals, never had such a healthy, talent-laden supporting cast. And now they are discovering the difficulty in ending the season for a desperate defending champion that has spent all season making a mockery of the NBA record book and the opposition. Oklahoma City's dynamic duo suddenly appears rattled and rushed, while the Warriors are back to thinking that the impossible is attainable.
"We've got a lot of heart and belief, and we've given ourselves a chance to win this series," Curry said. "That's all we could ask for. There's obviously a lot of excitement, but we still have one job to do."
Thompson helped the Warriors get back to having fun and being cocky. In the final seconds, Curry lifted up seven fingers to his shocked audience, reminding the fans hoping that the Thunder would close that another game is approaching.
Green strutted to the team bus after the win, feeling good that his teammates had done their part in backing up his pep talk after Game 4. But history still hasn't been made. "Not yet. The next game will be the hardest game of our lives," Green told The Vertical. "We've been making history all year, why stop now? It's going to be tough. But we can do it. On the road, things were kind of going their way, but we continued to fight and stick with it and eventually, who we are, came out."
Who Thompson is – a fiery competitor who keeps the coals burning slow internally – also came out. As he sat in front of his locker room stall, Thompson took a moment to smile and appreciate what had just happened.
"What a game. What a game," Thompson said to a group of reporters surrounding him. "The NBA should thank us for that game."
The Warriors are certainly thankful for Thompson – and his goofy Yoda socks.