Klay Thompson shows up in another big moment, helps close out Rockets

Klay Thompson shows up in another big moment, helps close out Rockets

HOUSTON -- About an hour after the Warriors dispatched the Rockets from the NBA playoffs Friday night, Klay Thompson had a unique reason for his Game 6 performance.

"I personally visualized the win," Thompson told NBC Sports Bay Area's Kerith Burke after the 118-113 win. "Through meditation and just focus."

With Kevin Durant out and a nonexistent bench, most outsiders had little foresight of what Thompson and the Warriors were about to pull off at Toyota Center. 

In 40 minutes, Thompson scored 27 points, 21 of which came in the first half as Stephen Curry went scoreless. With little offense from others, Thompson made five 3-pointers, keeping Golden State in contention. 

Durant's absence with a calf injury immediately sparked narratives of the Warriors reaching back into their "Strength in Numbers" past, marked by heavy passing and a massive dose of Thompson shots. Friday's start evoked memories of Thompson's performance in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference finals, when, facing a 3-2 series deficit against Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder, he scored 41 points to carry the series back to the Bay Area -- cementing himself in Golden State postseason lore.

While the output wasn't the same against the Rockets, the mindset remained the same. 

"Without Kevin [Durant] I knew I had to move a lot without the ball," Thompson said. "I had to get to my spots, rise up and shoot. You know when you’re missing one of the greatest players to ever play and the best scorer in the world, you can’t collectively make up for what he does, but you can step up in his absence and help out the point production."

Friday's performance put a bow on a notable series for Thompson. Two days after he sprained his ankle in Game 6 of the first-round series against the Clippers, Thompson shot just 38 percent through the first five games against the Rockets. However, it was his other responsibility -- covering Chris Paul -- that raised his teammates' eyebrows. Entering Friday night, Thompson held Paul -- who finished with 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting Wednesday night -- to just 38 percent shooting in one-on-one matchups.

"He completely took Chris out of this series," Warriors forward Draymond Green told NBC Sports Bay Area. "[Paul] had a good game today, but Klay completely took him out of the series the entire time."

Green's sentiments are in line with how Thompson is viewed in Golden State's locker room and why he believes he's worth a max contract this summer. Green, who's had a front-row seat for nearly all of Thompson's career-defining performances, said Friday's performance was more than expected.

"I've never seen Klay not show up in a big moment," Green continued. "He may miss some shots, as we all do. I've never seen him fold in the big moment. It's what he's made of. Competing, he's a f---ing dog. He'll never get credit for that, it's always, 'Oh, he can shoot.' Nah, he's a dog."

"He's one of the best two-way players in the game," Kerr added. "This is who Klay is. He's guarding James Harden, Chris Paul and [Eric] Gordon. He's guarding their best players. ... This is who Klay is."

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For now, with the rest of the weekend off and at least four days until the Warriors open the Western Conference finals at Oracle Arena, Thompson has one more request in his postgame interview.

"I might go to Muir Beach and jump in the ocean," Thompson said. "I'm so happy."

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the waning moments of the Warriors' latest loss Friday night, their bench resembled the front row of a fashion show more than a functioning NBA roster.

Toward the end of the bench, All-Star guard Stephen Curry sat in a black suit jacket, covering a massive cast protecting his broken left hand. To Curry's left, center Kevon Looney sat in a gray suit, his immediate future in peril as he continues to seek answers about an injured hamstring.

That type of visual has become commonplace over the last month.

Over that stretch, 11 Warriors players have been sidelined with injuries, crippling a roster that seemed armed with an outside shot of making the playoffs on opening night just three weeks ago.

The latest blow came Saturday morning, when an MRI confirmed that D'Angelo Russell had suffered a sprained thumb, sidelining him for at least two weeks. Over his previous six games, the guard had averaged 29.7 points on 48 percent shooting from the field, including a 52-point, nine-rebound performance against Minnesota, so his absence will be felt.

That's because the Warriors are in roster transition, marked by their youthful core.

When Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall were drafted in June, the expectation was that the rookies would be brought along slowly, learning behind Golden State's battered All-Star cast. The myriad injuries changed that, though, forcing both into more minutes than initially anticipated.

While Paschall has flourished in that spot (15.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 30.8 minutes per game), Poole has struggled. Since Curry's injury in the fourth game of the season, Poole has shot 29 percent from the field, and he has hit just five of his last 28 shots over his last two contests.

The trickle-down effect started on the eve of training camp, when Warriors general manager Bob Myers announced that center Willie Cauley-Stein would miss most of October with a foot strain. Two days later, rookie Alen Smailagic rolled his ankle and Looney strained his hamstring in the same controlled scrimmage.

Last month, Curry broke his hand, sidelining the guard until at least February. Two nights later, forward Draymond Green tore a ligament in his left index finger. On Monday, two-way guard Damion Lee fractured his hand.

Amid all those injuries, Warriors coach Steve Kerr trotted out his ninth starting lineup of the season Friday, with two-way guard Ky Bowman at the point. For a moment, it worked.

Midway through the third quarter, Bowman intercepted a pass, ran cross court and dunked over Grant Williams, cutting the Celtics' lead to three. Two minutes later, Alec Burk stripped Boston guard Brandon Wanamaker, setting up a fast-break layup that gave Golden State a brief 82-80 lead before the Celtics rallied and held on in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors' current reality is much different than their immediate past. After winning 78 percent of their games over five years, they now find themselves with a roster that lost Kevin Durant to free agency, while Curry and Klay Thompson's rehabs are expected to last until at least February. Their 2-11 record is the NBA's worst.

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Minutes after the final buzzer Friday, there were reminders of potential hopes lost. Curry's hand swelled out of his cast as he walked near a team official. In the locker room, Paschall sported an ice pack on his right hand, and Poole reconciled an ankle injury that he said wouldn't affect him.

As the Warriors packed for another road trip, potentially with just eight healthy bodies for the foreseeable future, another reminder that the team's development is coming at a hefty price was evident.

Warriors' D'Angelo Russell out at least two weeks with right thumb sprain


Warriors' D'Angelo Russell out at least two weeks with right thumb sprain

Add another one to the list.

After leaving Friday night’s loss to the Celtics with a thumb injury, an MRI has confirmed a right thumb sprain for All-Star guard D'Angelo Russell.

Russell will not travel with the team on the upcoming four-game road trip and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

Golden State’s already lengthy injury report adds another name, as the team now stands with just nine healthy players as the team embarks for New Orleans on Saturday to kick off the trip.