The View from Section 118: Klay Bomb
December 5, 2016: Warriors 142, Pacers 106
This guy. It was all about this guy.
Let’s be honest: This hasn’t been the smoothest of years for Klay Thompson. His points-per-game is slightly down. His three-point shooting percentage is way down. He’s missing open shots more frequently. And the eye test screams that he just looks out of rhythm, even though this offense is more wide-open than ever.
But tonight, it felt like he figured it out.
Here’s what I saw.
- If Klay does nothing else on the court except park himself in the corner, forcing his guy to guard him and not help, opening up the entire court for his teammates, then he’s a positive. But that wouldn’t be fun and, more importantly, it wouldn’t be a good use of one of the top five pure shooters in the world. But many times, that’s what he does (let’s call it Kevin Love Syndrome). And there’s a lethargy that festers from that lack of motion that can easily affect the focus and attention of any athlete, even an elite one like Klay. With the Cavs, Kevin Love’s placement is by design. For Klay, I think, it happens mostly from trying to work out the new dynamic with KD on the floor. He’s waiting for the ball to come to him, and that’s not good. But that symbiosis changed for the better tonight, big time. From the opening tap, Klay was on the move. And it resulted in a bunch of easy layups and floaters to get him going. We all learned that a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and with Klay, it got his entire game revving. You could just see it in his body language. He’s involved within the movement of the game beyond being an important chess piece.
- When Klay’s moving, he doesn’t have to create for himself, and that’s where he sometimes gets in trouble. Watch Klay shoot off the dribble. His fundamentals get all discombobulated. He’s unbalanced. He’s not squared up. His footwork is sloppy. He’s simply doing too much, maybe beyond what he can do. But when he’s moving without the ball, and reacting to what’s in front of him, it allows him to act naturally instead of thinking and getting out of sorts. In fact, he had the ball in his hands for just a smudge under 90 seconds tonight. That’s insane. And that comes from him being one of the best cutters in the league. It’s a skill of his that’s not talked about as much as it should. And when he’s moving and cutting like that, he’s impossible to defend. Tonight, he was the beneficiary from his own extraordinary movement and the impeccable vision of his teammates. That’s the ideal.
- Also, the Warriors defense helped him out considerably, hitting him on his breakouts after rebounds and turnovers. His body control after the catch was phenomenal, usually after a gorgeous pass from Draymond that hit him in stride. Man, Draymond’s a helluva passer. Steph too. And KD. I can go on.
- When he gets on a roll, forget about stopping him. Dude’s automatic. What a sight to behold. The entire crowd was just willing the ball into his hands, knowing what was going to happen next. It became a communal celebration of a magical performance. We felt it. The Warriors felt it. The Pacers felt it (and could do nothing to stop it). And when he hit a couple of ridiculous heat checks that were perfect from the time the ball left his fingers, it was like we were in a dream.
- I love how the Warriors scheme for him when he’s on. He missed when they ran elevator doors for him (note: that’s quite possibly my favorite action in all of basketball). He was lethal on dribble handoffs. And Draymond and Zaza leveled Monta with screens and picks right after Klay deked them with misdirections. Plus, if I saw it right, I believe they ran that action where Klay runs out of bounds on the baseline, avoiding the obvious picks in the paint that his defenders anticipate, to magically appear in the corner for a wide-open three. Nothing but net. Just gorgeous stuff.
- What a difference a year (and new point guard and coach) make for the Pacers. I know this is the Warriors, but their on-ball defense and rotations have gone from air-tight to super-loose. Plus, their personnel represents a perfect matchup for Klay to get going. He’s so much bigger than Monta, Teague and Stuckey that he could shoot right over them, even when they’re in his grill (which was basically never). And he lost them three or four times on backdoors for easy layups because that’s what they do.
- Not to brag or anything, but I sorta saw this coming about an hour before the game. This is real text I sent to my friend.
And yes, that’s Adonal Foyle in the photo.
8. OK, some non-Klay stuff. The Warriors defense looks drastically improved. They’re not going to get to Bogut levels, but Zaza appears way more comfortable with his decisions on help and rotations. There was one nice sequence where, after a switch on the high post, he was left to defend Teague on the drive with Turner approaching, and his hedging was fantastic, allowing KD to block the shot from behind. It’s that type of movement, thought and trust that was missing until recently. And Draymond, as usual, was all over the place, always in the right location. He’s amazing, especially in person. And we’re really watching KD at 75% effort on the defensive end, which is more than enough for 75% of the league. In the playoffs? Watch out. That’s full-throttle KD. And because of that, I’m excited for the defensive potential they haven’t reached yet.
9. More on Zaza. His passing is a really nice piece in the Warriors offense. He hits cutters at the right moment with the right trajectory to put it right up without hesitation — and usually through traffic. And he’s a load to fight through on screens. He’s fitting in. I’m impressed.
10. Javale McGee started the season off as a curiosity, and he’s blossoming into an answer. He offers so much that Zaza cannot: rim protection (which is so important), explosiveness (which is a huge asset in this offense) and lateral movement on defense, especially when switched on a ballhandler. The Warriors are going to need him more and more as they progress through the playoffs, and he needs to be ready to shoulder that load. And, considering the gigantic steps he’s taken already this season, there’s a lot to be hopeful for. Yes, he’s going to make mistakes (and sometimes really dumb ones). Yes, he’s a walking advertisement for Shaqtin’. But this seems to be the right environment for him to learn from those miscues, without immediate benching, and to become something worthwhile. Maybe even impactful.
On a personal note: Klay’s 60 was the highest-scoring game by a player I’ve ever seen in person. Previously, I saw the Knicks beat the Pistons 151–143 in triple overtime on December 28, 2006. That I remember. But I swore that Stephon Marbury had 50 in that game. He didn’t. He had 41. Richard Hamilton, however, put in 51 points, and I clearly remember that performance now, even though it took reading the game recap to jog that memory. Another side note: Marbury’s 41 points was 16 more than what I held him to in an AAU game during the summer of my senior year in high school (which would have been his freshman year). I also remember Luke and I watching Steph Curry go for 39 and Dame Lilliard go for 38 against each other last April, and that was exciting — even beyond the fact that it was my little man’s first NBA game.
But Klay’s 60 points on 33 shots in 29 minutes is the most epic performance I’ve seen and, I guarantee you, it’s one I’ll never forget. And, to make it extra special, I got to experience it with my dad.