OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Klay Thompson flashed back to a night he left the arena still in uniform, furious about his forgettable performance against Denver.
It used to be he struggled to shake off a bad night, or even a bad start to a game.
Now, he just keeps shooting. Whenever he feels like it, from wherever. No conscience. A hand or two in his face, no matter.
“I was not always like this. I used to be so hard on myself, especially early in my career,” Thompson said. “… I learned, as I get older, if you play with passion, you play hard, and you leave the game saying I gave everything I have tonight in those 48 minutes, you can live with the result.”
The Warriors‘ season lives on largely thanks to Thompson’s shooting touch. Golden State is one win from a fourth straight NBA Finals, headed back to Houston for Monday night’s Game 7.
He came through with the defending champions’ season on the line in another do-or-die Game 6, just as he did two years ago at Oklahoma City. This time he scored 35 points with nine 3-pointers as the Warriors rallied with a huge second half to beat the Rockets 115-86 on Saturday night to force a deciding game in the Western Conference finals.
His defense shined, too. Oh, and the typically subdued Thompson let his emotions flow for all to see: He flexed his biceps Draymond Green style, pumped his arms like Kevin Durant and yelled out the way Stephen Curry often does at Oracle Arena.
Thompson has long been content to be the understated All-Star among the four in Golden State’s starting lineup.
“I just wanted to play with as much passion as I could tonight. Probably sounded more vocal than I usually am,” Thompson acknowledged. “When your back’s against the wall, if your shot’s not falling, you can always control your passion and how hard you play. Usually when I do that, it trickles over to other aspects of my game.”
Curry’s Splash Brother did it in 2016 when he scored 41 points against Durant’s former Thunder team with the Warriors facing elimination. They went on to win Game 7 before falling to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in a seven-game NBA Finals.
Durant had no interest in recollecting, smiling and laughing with Curry as he said, “next question.”
As for Curry?
“I think we both blocked that whole year out of our memory,” the two-time MVP quipped.
No arguing they both appreciate Thompson’s no-fear shooting approach and ability to almost single-handedly turn the tide of a game with a timely 3-pointer or two — or nine.
Once Golden State got going in transition, following clutch defensive stops, Thompson found the looks he so prefers from long range.
“I feel like we’re the best team in the world and most fun team in the world to watch when we’re pushing that ball, getting defensive stops and making plays,” he said. “We’ve got too much talent not just to hit singles like Coach always says. Trust the next man ahead of us. It will end up working in our favor most of the time.”
Thompson shot 13 for 23 and 9 of 14 from deep as the Warriors responded from an early 17-point deficit to dominate James Harden and Houston the final three quarters, outscoring the Rockets 93-47 after trailing 39-22 at the end of the first.
Thompson went a combined 20 of 32 from 3-point range in those two impressive Game 6 shows, Saturday and in 2016.
“I think Klay doesn’t worry too much about repercussions. He doesn’t worry about judgment and results. I think he just loves to play,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s so comfortable in his own skin. I just think he wants to go out there and hoop, and he doesn’t worry about much else. So the pressure doesn’t seem to bother him much. He just competes and plays. As I said, the two-way ability of this guy hounding the MVP of the league, most likely, all game, and continuing to rain down 3-pointers, he’s amazing.”