When Klay Thompson tore his ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, he was at the peak of his basketball powers.
Nine hundred and forty-one days later, Thompson returned to the court for the Warriors, just happy to be playing the game he loves. The game was rusty and his wind short, but his gratitude was immense. Thompson and the Warriors knew his climb back to elite shooting guard wouldn't happen overnight, nor would it be linear.
There was a 33-point outburst against the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 12, followed immediately by a 3-for-14 shooting night against the Los Angeles Clippers. He went 3-for-13 in a loss to the Lakers on March 5 before dropping 38 on the Milwaukee Bucks a week later. Head coach Steve Kerr harped that Thompson's shooting struggles were the product of him forcing the issue and not trusting the Warriors' offense to get him the ball back if he made the smart pass.
Those struggles led to ridiculous calls from Warriors fans to sit Thompson during crunch time and perhaps move him to the bench in favor of Jordan Poole when Golden State became whole. Kerr never entertained the absurd notion. He brought in Will Ferrell to lift Thompson's spirits and was adamant he would always ride with his star shooting guard, believing the five-time All-Star would eventually get back to the Thompsons of old.
After pouring in 41 points in Sunday's regular-season finale against the New Orleans Pelicans, it appears Thompson has done just that.
Over his last three games, Thompson is averaging 36.7 points per game while shooting 53.2 percent from the field and 51.2 percent from 3-point range. Move that to six games, and Thompson is still averaging 30.8 points per game with shooting splits of 48.0/45.0/87.5.
With the Warriors set to open their NBA playoff run Saturday against the Denver Nuggets, Thompson has finally found himself. Not that he ever thought he was lost.
"I feel like I've been back," Thompson told reporters Sunday after the win vs. the Pelicans. "Just, the consistency in these big nights hasn't been there like I wanted it to be. But, yeah, I'm back, and I'm so ready for next weekend. It's going to be a dog fight, but man, we're ready."
With Steph Curry's availability for the first-round series against the Denver Nuggets up in the air, Thompson is entering the chat at the perfect time for the Warriors. If Thompson's hot streak is indeed a sign he has broken through the return wall, he and Poole give the Warriors two dynamic backcourt scoring options and could be enough to buy Curry a few extra days to heal if needed.
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Two devastating leg injuries put Thompson on the sideline for two seasons. His return on Jan. 9 was a massive checkpoint in a long journey back to the player he was when he went down in June of 2019.
After 32 games this season, the ball is flicking off Thompson's wrist with ease and the Warriors star has 100 percent confidence in his legs.
"I'm 100 percent," Thompson told TNT after the game Sunday. "My wind is so much better than a couple months ago, especially to be able to affect the ball on both sides. I still think my defense has a lot of improvement to make. But as far as offensively -- coming off, catching and shooting, not thinking about taking off my right foot or taking off my left foot -- just playing free-minded, I feel like I'm there.
"Right where I wanted to be coming into the postseason."
With miles and miles of his journey behind him, the Warriors star arrives at the playoffs no longer a shell of himself, no longer searching. He hasn't reached the finish line but knows he's in the home stretch. It's a moment he was always confident he would reach. Even when there was doubt, Klay Thompson had no doubt.
"A lot of ups and downs for myself this season," Thompson told reporters Sunday. "I stuck with it and I will continue to do that. I have some great momentum going into the playoffs. I can't wait. I'm so excited for the playoffs. Haven't watched the last two years because it was painful, so to be back and be a part of it. I get geeked just thinking about it."
Armed with confidence, perspective, hardened armor, and gratitude, Klay Thompson has found Klay Thompson just when the Warriors needed him most.
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