OAKLAND — Klay Thompson had a simple declaration for Kerith Burke just before he left the court during halftime Friday night.
"We're dialed in. We’re having fun over here!" the Warriors guard proclaimed in his first game back from an injured knee.
KLAY IS A MOOD pic.twitter.com/ICqWnvWtfK— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) March 9, 2019
Over the last few weeks, such statements have been few and far as the Warriors navigate one of their worst stretches of the season. But with this matchup against the Nuggets providing a chance to stay atop the Western Conference, Thompson's 39 points and nine 3-pointers brought a calm to the champs in a season full of chaos.
Thompson's impact was immediate in the 122-105 win at Oracle Arena. He scored 10 points in the first quarter, helping push the Warriors' lead as high as 19. By halftime, he pushed his point total to 27, making six 3-pointers before the break.
More noticeable was Thompson's play during times of need. When the Nuggets erased a 19-point deficit midway through the second quarter, it was Thompson who hit a timely shot, sparking a 17-4 run to close the half.
When the Nuggets threatened again in the second half, cutting the lead to 11, it was Thompson who blocked a shot and hit another 3-pointer to put the game out of reach.
"He impacted the game in so many ways," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "He obviously had 39 points, but it's his defense, too. Chasing ball handlers over those high screens, being physical, using his length and intelligence to make guys uncomfortable ... he was amazing. He was awesome."
Thompson's performance came at a particular moment of peril for the Warriors. Entering Friday, they were giving up 111.4 points per contest, posting a 109.5 defensive rating over their last five games and winning just three of seven since the All-Star break.
The Warriors' fortunes got worse when Thompson suffered a knee injury against the Magic. Then, the team suffered its worst loss of the Steve Kerr era, losing to the Celtics 128-95 on Tuesday night as Thompson rehabbed.
So, with just a one-game lead over the Nuggets in the Western Conference standings entering Friday, Thompson needed a big game.
"It was a good step in the right direction," Stephen Curry said. "We wanted to obviously beat them and create some separation because we have a lot of work to do to get that No. 1 seed and pull out the season strong."
Last season, the Warriors' disinterest led to a 7-10 finish to the regular season, marking the first time under Kerr that Golden State finished second in the Western Conference standings. More than seven hours before Friday's game, with the team just 3-5 since the All-Star break, Thompson was asked if he feared his team was going toward a similar path this season.
"I don't have not one bit of concern in my body," he responded. "When we're challenged and our backs are against the wall, we are at our best. Knowing what's at stake these next 18 games, we got to play like that."
Hours later, his words rang true, and if the Warriors have it their way, Thompson's sentiments will carry out for the rest of the season and beyond.