This was the performance for which he was pining. It was worth his pronounced strut of him. Klay Thompson was well within his right to talk that talk, flash four fingers, roar from his diaphragm and bark back at his critics of him. But that wasn’t Thompson’s vibe after his first monster performance of this season, a 41-point night that powered the first Warriors road win of the season.
“I don’t care anymore,” Thompson said. “I really let the trolls get to me. Like, ‘What am I doing?’ I had just a revelation where I was like, ‘Man, just be you and everything will play out.’ Criticize me all you want. But I know how great I am and what I’m capable of, and I think real Warriors fans know that as well.”
This was the old Klay, the one he lost his way a bit trying to summon. Not just in the big number he put up. But also in how he got his shots of him. As was the case in the win over New York on Friday, Thompson let the offense come to him, milking the actions and pace that have always fed his game. Then, when it was over, his demeanor of him was also like the old Klay. Appropriately excited but not desperately gloating.
Thompson has done a lot of talking this season, reminding people of his greatness, what he’s overcome, how he never stays down for long, and that the floodgates would open. But Sunday in Houston, he let the gasps in the Toyota Center be his closing argument. He found his game by losing his bent to revive it.
“He’s not worried about what happens with Klay,” Draymond Green said. “He’s worried about what happens with this team. And when Klay worries about what happens with this team, Klay plays great and we win. I’ve always said he’s the most competitive guy that I’ve ever played with and the most important thing to him has always been winning. At times, we all get away from who we are. And in a brotherhood, you need someone to bring you back to who you are. I have no doubt in my mind if it was me, he’d do the same thing.”
It’s hard to say things are turning around when a 74-point performance from the Warriors’ backcourt results in a nail-biter against the worst team in the Western Conference. The Splash Brothers combined with Andrew Wiggins for 23 made 3s on Sunday, the most by a trio in a single game in NBA history for ESPNand they still had a hard time dispatching of Kevin Porter Jr. and crew.
The Warriors’ 127-120 win over the Rockets underscored the blueprint for how they must get their season back on track. Star power. It’s on the four All-Stars who account for $148 million of the salary cap. That may not be how they set out. Coming off a championship run, the smart plan would’ve been to buy them more rest and save them for the latter part of the season. But the Warriors’ bench is still a mess. The new veterans are still getting acclimated (and looking better) and the young players who were supposed to get larger roles this season can scarcely get in the game.
Those are problems that will have to be solved or addressed at some point. But for now, to get this season jumpstarted, it’s going to have to be the stars. They’re going to have to play big minutes, produce big performances and orchestrate big wins. It may not be necessary all season. But it is right now. There are no other options at the moment.
“Strength in Numbers” is back to “Strength in Stars.”
Stephen Curry has been sensational and was especially spectacular in Houston. He totaled 33 points on 20 shots, 15 assists, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks. The Warriors outscored Houston by 22 points in Curry’s 37 minutes. He scored eight points with three assists in the final minutes of a close game, including a Purvis Short health of a 3 lateto close out the Rockets.
But the Warriors left Houston with a win because Curry got help. Because Thompson went off. Because Wiggins had much of his 22 points at critical junctures. Because Draymond Green was on his glue game.
“It felt good to help him a little bit,” Thompson said. “It just felt good to have a big game. I’m my harshest critic. The first 10 games of the season weren’t easy for me. So to come out and be myself again, it felt incredible.”
One of the significant ways coach Steve Kerr leaned on his stars was putting Draymond Green in the second unit. The Warriors took a 12-point lead into the second quarter, but their reserve unit — Jordan Poole, Donte DiVincenzo, Jonathan Kuminga, Anthony Lamb and Kevon Looney — gave up a 13-0 run to the Rockets in 2:35. The Warriors’ lead was gone, the lowly Rockets (who came into the game 3-13) were bubbling with confidence, and this was shaping up to be another road disaster for Golden State. The starters righted the ship and took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter. This time, Draymond Green was with the second unit, replacing Looney, along with Poole, DiVincenzo, JaMychal Green and Moses Moody.
Green’s leadership and court presence made an immediate impact. It was his pep talk that got Thompson’s head right and into a more effective style of play. Now the player who was thought to have lost his leadership powers, after his preseason incident with Poole, was back to being the intangible force they desperately needed him to be.
It’s going to be the stars that get them through this.
Five observations: Warriors’ first road win; Klay Thompson, Steph Curry combine for 74 points
The Warriors’ veterans have been on the court in close games in the past and didn’t get it done. But if they are to get this season together, they can’t afford that. Even if the bench blows a lead. Even if they aren’t playing well. If they’ve got a chance to win, the stars have to deliver. That’s who they are right now.
That’s why Sunday was such a good sign. Wiggins still has some room to grow. While he’s shooting the 3 at a career-best clip and he’s coming up with some timely buckets, he could really help the team’s defense by locking down on that end.
“I don’t think his defense has been as good as it was last year,” Kerr said. “I think he knows that. It goes hand in hand with our team’s defense.”
But if Curry is playing like the MVP. And Thompson has found his way. And Wiggins is getting buckets and eventually stops. And Draymond Green is having his hand in both ends and on the pulse. And if Poole finds the groove that’s currently escaping him. Then the Warriors can turn this thing around.
It’s gotta be the stars.
(Photo: Alex Bierens de Haan / Getty Images)