OAKLAND, Calif. — In the days ahead of Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Klay Thompson had become a rallying cry for the Golden State Warriors. His left ankle had been diagnosed as a high sprain with significant bruising, and around-the-clock treatment commenced between Games 1 and 2, with a 10 a.m. appointment on Sunday allowing Thompson to become cleared and avoid a painkilling injection. Teammates had never seen Thompson labor this way before, with the type of sprain usually understood to sideline a player for weeks.
Thompson is a basketball machine, however, and few things in this world could have prevented him from playing. He prides himself on his durability and reliability for this franchise and played his 100th straight postseason game Sunday. He scored 20 points and made three 3-pointers in the Warriors’ 122-103 victory to take a 2-0 series lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Out of his willpower and purity for the sport, Thompson had made the improbable possible.
“He wasn’t supposed to play,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said on his walk out of Oracle Arena. “But that’s Klay. He only knows one way.”
When the Warriors needed to create scoring to combat the Cavaliers and LeBron James’ runs in the third quarter, Thompson delivered 10 points to help his team take a lead of the same size into the fourth quarter. When Thompson entered the practice facility on Saturday night, it was another night spent on the training table, not the courts. Green remembered seeing Thompson limp to his media appearance on Saturday afternoon, and Green even texted Nick Young on Saturday night to be prepared for minutes in case of Thompson’s absence.
“I thought there was no chance Klay was playing,” Green said. “I saw him [Saturday] and saw his ankle, and I was like, ‘Yeah, no chance.’”
The angst started for Thompson when Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith undercut his legs in Game 1, a play that could have been much worse for the Warriors’ All-Star. He had been “pissed” about the dive Smith made, he said, but Thompson’s always been too calm, too collected to fixate on obstacles. Had Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (bone bruise) been available for Game 2, perhaps Thompson would have taken one game off and rested for Wednesday’s Game 3. Thompson’s ankle improved rapidly into Sunday, though, and he appeared loose and fit in warmups before Game 2. Iguodala aims to return when this series shifts to Cleveland, and there he was hugging Thompson off the floor Sunday night.
“I’m not used to sitting on the training table,” Thompson said. “At this point, it’s any means necessary.”
Two years ago, Thompson sat at the United Center in Chicago and was adamant: He wasn’t sacrificing his game for Kevin Durant. Thompson was speaking during Team USA’s exhibition run that summer and did not mean to take any swipes toward his new teammate. He simply had a clear point of view on the addition of Durant to the Warriors and understood the work he had put into his craft. “My game isn’t changing,” Thompson told Yahoo Sports. “I’m still going to try to get buckets, hit shots, come off screens.” This is the beauty of Thompson, a two-way star able to mesh with teammates and others on the floor.
When doctors were clearing Thompson to return to Game 1, they wanted him to test his ankle in a hallway, but he strolled the other way. He then ran onto the court and quickly implored coach Steve Kerr to put him on the floor. He returned to the lineup for Game 2, but it came with two days of rest, recovery and treatment. “He loves this game and wants to be out there for us,” Warriors star Stephen Curry said.
Curry and Thompson had gone on scoring bursts in the second half even as the Cavaliers continued pushing, continued climbing within six, within eight. Curry scored 33 points, including a Finals record nine 3-pointers, a shooting display that left Cavaliers players cursing aloud while leaving the locker room. Durant had struggled to find a rhythm in the opener but responded with 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Down 2-0, the fashion in which the Cavaliers surrendered an opportunity to win Game 1 haunted them. James had a 51-point performance in Game 1 and brilliantly controlled the pace for much of Game 2.
James finished with 29 points on 10-of-20 shooting, 13 assists and nine rebounds in 44 minutes, yet seemingly left more to be desired. Kevin Love (22 points and 10 rebounds) has given James a co-star, but the supporting cast has been inconsistent. George Hill and Tristan Thompson combined for 26 points, while Jeff Green and Kyle Korver combined for 2-of-10 shooting in 37 minutes. Soon, Cavaliers coach Ty Lue will need to entrust Rodney Hood, the seldom-used shooting guard who has the potential to give James a wing player capable of creating his own offense.
“They kept coming, but we rallied around each other, we rallied around Klay,” Green said.
The Warriors are two victories from an NBA championship, and for now this core remains together, remains the NBA’s most feared. Thompson has become the Warriors’ ultimate glue piece, one of the league’s best shooting guards able to blend his talents perfectly alongside Curry and Durant, Green and Iguodala. Count one more effort for Thompson’s Bay Area legend and the normally weeks-long injury he rehabilitated in days. Only Klay. Only Klay.
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