NBA Finals

Klay Thompson felt he was at 'peak of my NBA career' when he tore ACL

Klay Thompson felt he was at 'peak of my NBA career' when he tore ACL

Klay Thompson was in the midst of another "Game 6 Klay" performance.

It was a do-or-die night for the Warriors and Thompson was dominating the Toronto Raptors at Oracle Arena on June 13.

In 32 minutes, Thompson had scored a game-high 30 points and was helping the Warriors stave off elimination.

But what happened next made every Warriors fan cringe.

With the Warriors up three points and trying to take control, Thompson went up for an emphatic fastbreak dunk. Instead, Danny Green fouled the Warriors shooting guard, who landed awkwardly and ended up tearing his left ACL.

“I felt like the best version I’ve ever felt of myself in that NBA Finals,” Thompson told The Athletic's Marcus Thomspon. “I kid you not.”

The rest is the stuff of legends. Thompson, in the tunnel outside the Warriors locker room, jogged back out and hit two free throws -- on a torn ACL -- before leaving the game.

But for Thompson, getting hurt at that moment is something he can't get over.

“I think about that every day,” Thompson told The Athletic. “That’s just the humbling part of sports -- when you feel like you’re at your best, something traumatic can happen. But I honestly felt like I was at the peak of my NBA career up to that point. I was at my best. The way I was shooting the ball, the way I was playing defense. I felt like I was one of the best players out there. 

"In past series, or Finals, you know, I’ve been able to defer. But in that series, I felt like I was just, like, as close to unstoppable as I’ve ever been.”

On that night, despite missing the final 14-plus minutes of game action, Thompson still finished with the most points in the contest.

Thompson was having the best NBA Finals of his career. In five games (remember, he missed Game 3 with a mild hamstring strain) Thompson averaged 26.0 points. In four previous NBA Finals, his best output was 19.6 points per game in 2016.

Thompson was at the top of his game, but now he will be forced to miss part of the upcoming 2019-20 season as he rehabs his left ACL.

The good news for Warriors fans is that Thompson told The Athletic that he's more motivated than ever to get back to that level.

[RELATED: Klay tried to recruit KD to return]

So if you're concerned that Thompson won't be the same when he returns to the court, you've got nothing to worry about.

We expect a few more "Game 6 Klay" performances in the future.

Klay Thompson believes Warriors win NBA Finals if he doesn't tear ACL

Klay Thompson believes Warriors win NBA Finals if he doesn't tear ACL

The play forever will go down in NBA history. Klay Thompson clutching his knee in agony on the Oracle Arena floor in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals is a sight Warriors fans wish they could erase. 

But it also brings up one of the biggest what-ifs ever in basketball. What if Thompson cleanly finished his dunk attempt with 2:22 left in the third quarter against the Raptors and never tore his ACL? 

For Thompson, the answer to that scenario is an easy one. 

“In my mind, yes, we would’ve won if I didn’t get hurt,” Thompson told The Athletic's Marcus Thompson. “But that’s just the nature of sports, you know? What-ifs? It doesn’t matter. It’s if you do your deed or not. In my mind, I think we would’ve. But you never know. That’s the hard part you’ve got to accept." 

Klay was at his best when he went down. He scored 30 points in 32 minutes in Game 6, and that was just the continuation of a fantastic series against Toronto. Thompson averaged 26 points in five games while shooting a ridiculous 59.4 percent from 3-point range. Catching fire isn't anything new for the five-time All-Star, but this might have been the best version of Thomson anyone has seen. 

He also knows the reality of injuries. While Thompson has been extremely durable for the Dubs over his eight-year career, he has seen stars go down in the past against Golden State on the biggest stage. 

Rehabbing from his own injury now gives him a much different perspective. 

"I look at all the guys who had bad luck getting injured against us the last few years, and I’ve honestly become so much more sympathetic," Thompson. "Yeah. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

[RELATED: Klay should sit out two years, one top knee doctor says]

Despite Kevin Durant leaving in free agency and the Warriors dealing with a whole new roster, Thompson believes the team's dynasty is far from over. But this dynasty, and the future of the NBA, could have looked a lot different with a healthy Klay Thompson in the rest of Game 6 and beyond. 

What-ifs have happened before and they will happen again. For Warriors fans, however, this one will sting for a lifetime.

Warriors' Klay Thompson looks back at epic free throws after ACL tear

Warriors' Klay Thompson looks back at epic free throws after ACL tear

It's one of the biggest "what ifs" in recent NBA history. It also created a moment Warriors fans will never forget. 

While Golden State fans wish they could forget the fall that caused Klay Thompson to tear his ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, his two free throws after the injury forever will be nothing short of epic. Though the star shooting guard was writhing in pain on the floor, Thompson believed he could eventually re-enter the game.

"I just remember walking off and telling Steve [Kerr], 'I'm just gonna go in the back and hopefully it'll loosen up,'" Thompson during his current trip in China. 

The power of adrenaline can only take you so far, though. Thompson walked towards the locker room and was even seen jumping and running down the hallway. 

That, however, didn't last too long. 

"Once I went back there and didn't feel the energy of the crowd or see my teammates or feel that ball in my hands, the adrenaline wears off," Thompson said. "I just realized I did something pretty significant, and although it happened, I can wholeheartedly say that I left my heart out there on the court and tried my hardest.

"Sometimes you come up short in sports." 

Before hitting the hardware on a missed dunk attempt, Thompson scored 30 points in 32 minutes. There was 2:22 left in the third quarter at the time of Thompson's injury, and the Warriors led 83-80. He made both of his free throws with a torn ACL, pushing the Warriors' lead to five. 

[RELATED: 'China Klay' is back as Warriors icon lands in Shanghai]

The rest is history. 

Would the Warriors have won if Klay didn't get hurt? What would have happened in a Game 7? We'll never know, but Thompson will always have two of the most memorable free throws in NBA history to his name.