Published On: Tue, Jun 5th, 2018

Hobbled Thompson a major part of Warriors' title aspirations

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CLEVELAND – It wasn’t quite Willis Reed receiving painkiller injections in his thigh, limping on the court during warmups and leading the New York Knicks to a Game 7 victory in the 1970 Finals. But to hear his teammates tell it, Klay Thompson’s Game 2 performance might become part of Warriors lore if Golden State goes on to win its third title in four seasons.

Early in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, Thompson tripped over J.R. Smith and suffered a high-ankle sprain. That was the best-case scenario, as he could have been sidelined by a far worse injury. Thompson played through the pain in Game 1, but was questionable heading into Sunday’s Game 2.

On Friday, the day after Game 1, Thompson received treatment, but he didn’t want to break up his off-day routine.

“He was getting treatment and still tried to manage to walk out to the court and take a couple shots just to keep his rhythm,” Steph Curry said while pointing out his backcourt mate wasn’t moving around well and took plenty of set shots.

Draymond Green saw Thompson on Saturday and was convinced the team would be without its top shooting guard for at least one game. “I saw his ankle, and I was like, ‘yeah, there’s no chance he’s playing,’” Green said.

“You good?” Green asked Thompson.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Thompson replied. “I’m playing. I’ll be alright.”

Green wasn’t convinced and texted teammate Nick Young to let him know that he would need to step up in Game 2.

Even though he was walking with a noticeable limp 24 hours before Game 2, Thompson was in the starting lineup. While Curry received all of the headlines for his Finals-record nine three-pointers, Thompson’s performance, given the circumstances, was equally impressive. Playing with a sprained ankle, he shot 8-for-13 from the field and scored 20 points in 34 minutes.

“That’s just a microcosm of who he is,” Green said. “One of the toughest guys, if not the toughest guy, I’ve ever played with. He’ll never get credit for it because he’s not going to physically beat you up. But one of the toughest, if not the toughest guy for sure.”

Head coach Steve Kerr added: “It shows you kind of how much he loves the game and wants to be out there for us as a team and for himself and enjoy this moment.”

Of the four Warriors All-Stars, Thompson probably receives the least attention. Spend enough time around him, observing him, and hearing teammates and coaches talk about him, and you realize that’s exactly the way he prefers it.

Thompson’s happy-go-lucky attitude is one of a kind. His exploits in China while on a promotional tour last summer were well documented. Amidst all the hoopla surrounding this Golden State team, Thompson never lets the spotlight wear him down, and soaks it up instead.

Thompson has played a significant role during the Warriors’ historic four-year run. In Game 6 of the Western Conference finals two years ago, it was Thompson who hit 11 three-pointers on his way to scoring 41 points to help the Warriors stave off elimination on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

A week ago, with the Warriors once again trailing 3-2 in the Western Conference finals, and down 17 points after one quarter in Game 6 against the Houston Rockets, it was Thompson who once again led the charge, hitting nine three-pointers during a second-half comeback.

“I guess you could say I was born for it,” Thompson said nonchalantly.

On a team with so much star power, Thompson is perfectly comfortable in his role and has delivered repeatedly. His importance and consistency might be overshadowed by the large margin for error the Warriors’ roster gives them. But that doesn’t take away from the contributions he’s provided.

Golden State has never had to find out what life in the playoffs would be like without Thompson. Sunday was his 100th consecutive playoff appearance, a franchise record.

Thompson’s importance goes beyond this championship run, too. The Warriors guard is eligible to sign an extension this summer, and has said he’s willing to take a discount to ease the luxury tax burden for the team moving forward. It would mesh with Thompson’s repeated mantra that the Warriors have a great thing going, and now he’s apparently willing to sacrifice a bit personally.

Thompson entertaining a discount would increase the possibility of Golden State’s core staying together and extending the championship window ahead.

As we’re seeing once again in these Finals, when Curry, Thompson, and Kevin Durant are all rolling at the same time, no team has an answer. Curry might be the face of the franchise. Durant might be the most talented player on this team. But the Warriors also have Thompson, a superstar hiding in plain sight, and the most relaxed personality on a team that benefits from the levity he provides.

So, what did Thompson think about his performance on Sunday?

“I never knew an ankle would hurt until you need it,” he said.

Alex Wong is an NBA freelance writer whose work has appeared in GQ, The New Yorker, Vice Sports, and Complex, among other publications.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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