Klay Thompson seemed en route to another deflating early-season performance against the Los Angeles Clippers, curbing the steady momentum he'd quietly built over the last 10 days. The Golden State Warriors' veteran star entered Thursday's action with at least 20 points in three of the last four games, finding the range on his jumper en route to combined 17-of-38 shooting from deep.
Coming off an invisible second half in the Dubs' disastrous loss to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, though, Thompson initially picked up right he left off versus the Clippers. He had just seven points on 2-of-10 shooting and three clanked triples as woefully shorthanded Golden State took an 11-point lead into intermission, an afterthought at best while Brandin Podziemski, Jonathan Kuminga and Dario Saric helped make up for the absences of Andrew Wiggins, Chris Paul and Gary Payton II.
The tide started turning for Thompson in the third quarter. After Los Angeles stormed out of halftime, quickly cutting Golden State's lead to four, he hit a broken-play mid-ranger and transition three out of a timeout, helping keep the Clippers out of reach on the scoreboard. But Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and company never stopped coming on the second leg of a back-to-back, trailing 89-82 after Russell Westbrook split a pair at the line with 10:13 remaining in the game, prompting another Warriors timeout.
Klay Thompson's big 4th quarter ‘reward' in win over Clippers
Thompson rung off 10 straight points following Golden State's timeout early in the fourth quarter, a sudden scoring barrage that took place over just 90 seconds of game time. He hit a leaning corner three courtesy of a dribble hand-off with Jonathan Kuminga; confidently curled around an off-ball screen into an elbow jumper over Daniel Theis; then went right through the Clippers' newly acquired big man at the rim after showing-and-going past Paul George for an and-1 finish.
Thompson's rapid scoring flourish ended with an easy layup off a right-place, right-time offensive rebound—another indication the ball was suddenly bouncing his way. By the time it was finished by a timeout from Ty Lue, the Warriors led Los Angeles 99-86 with 8:23 left in the fourth quarter. The Clippers never got closer on the scoreboard than two possessions as the Dubs held strong for an impressive and much-needed 120-114 victory.
After the game, Steve Kerr discussed Thompson's fourth quarter outburst, noting it was his “reward” for playing the right way on both ends from the opening tip.
“What I loved about Klay's game tonight is that he stayed patient through the missed shots,” Kerr said. “He had a lot of open shots that he missed early, and he didn't hang his head, kept the energy defensively, stayed with it, and I felt like the game rewarded him during that flurry early in the fourth…That's what we need from him.”
Thompson finished with 22 points, six rebounds and two assists on Thursday, shooting 8-of-18 overall and 2-of-10 on threes. Kerr couldn't have been happy with all of his shot selection, but it's true Thompson forced the issue less against the Clippers than he has in many games during another slow, attention-grabbing start to his season.
It's Thompson's effort on defense and the glass that really stood out, consistent fight that was especially pivotal with Wiggins and Payton watching from the sidelines. He played reliably stout defense on Kawhi Leonard one-on-one all night, forcing Los Angeles' best player out of shots and into misses while collecting an Andre Iguodala-style strip block late in the third quarter.
Never known as a rebounder and lacking the (somewhat limited) lift he had in his prime, Thompson skied for a crucial, left-handed defensive board late in the fourth quarter over LA seven-footer Ivica Zubac. Curry rejected a screen and weaved his way through the defense for a swooping layup on the Dubs' next trip down, pushing their lead to nine.
Thompson didn't do anything all that special on a “special” night for the Warriors' Big Three. He's one of the best tough shot-makers ever and still fares well defending power-based wings like Leonard in isolation. It's hardly surprising he'd successfully throw his weight around on the glass, either.
Golden State isn't asking Thompson to play like a borderline superstar anymore. Finding shots within flow of the offense, maintaining defensive edge amid misses on the other end and doing necessary dirty work is all the Warriors need from Thompson at this advanced stage of his Hall-of-Fame career—the type of valuable two-way impact Kerr sees coming as the 82-game grind continues.
“That's the Klay that I expect really the rest of the year,” he said. “I thought he was great in Sacramento the other night. As long as he's patient and doesn't beat himself up, just stays with it and brings the energy defensively, he's a great player.”