The finish line is in sight for Warriors star Klay Thompson, and he seems be overwhelmed by the emotion of his eventual return from two devastating leg injuries.
After the Warriors beat the Portland Trail Blazers 118-103 on Friday night, Thompson stayed on the bench long after the players and most of the fans had cleared out of Chase Center.
Thompson seemed to be emotional and soaking in the moment, at one point draping a towel over his head.
The few fans left in the building noticed Thompson on the bench and started chanting his name.
Thompson stayed on the Warriors' bench for more than 30 minutes after the game. He finally left and was accompanied by Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
Kerr was asked after the game about Thompson staying on the bench long after the final buzzer had sounded.
"I just try to put myself in his shoes," Kerr said. "The good news is he is nearing the finish line on this. But he can't help but stop and think about how much he's lost the last couple of years, just on a personal level. He loves the game so much and not being able to play, not really being able to be a part of the team the way he wants to, it's been pretty emotional for him.
"He's very human, I guess that's what I'm trying to say, like, he's vulnerable, he's emotional. That's what makes him such a beautiful person, and he just cares and he loves the game. He loves the work, and he wants to be part of everything. All that's been ripped away the last two years. So, there's been times where he's been pretty down."
Green also spoke to reporters after the game, and offered insight into how the Warriors are handling Thompson's long road back to the court.
"It's very tough, and he's right there," Green said. "He's right there, getting toward the end of the road. Or the beginning of the road, however you choose to look at it.
"He's had these days from time to time, and I understand it as far as I can understand without going through it. I don't know many people who love basketball the way Klay loves basketball, that loves competing the way he loves competing. I always talk about our dominoes games. He even loved doing that, and he's severely outmatched. So, just a competitor. One of the biggest competitors I've ever been around in my life.
"And he's a part of this. Don't get my wrong. But you want to impact the game, you want to have your presence out there, make your presence felt. And after almost three full calendar years off the floor, it's tough. We sympathize with him, but we have to be right there, continue to push him, continue to try to get him to the finish line, or the start line as I said before.
"He tends to have these days from time to time, and who am I to judge or even try to figure it out? I can just show my love, show my support, try to push him. He's improving rapidly, and his game is getting back to where it needs to be.
"So, it's beautiful to watch him conquer his journey that he's been on. And he's conquering it. Like I said, he's right there, he's almost there. If you talk to someone in prison, a lot of guys say the toughest days are the ones when you know you're getting ready to come home. We feel for him, but we're going to continue to be there for him, continue to push him and wait with open arms these next few weeks in hopes that he'll be back sooner rather than later."
No one has missed Thompson's presence on the court more than his fellow Splash Brother. Over the past two seasons, when Klay has been on the Warriors' bench, Curry has been seen seated next to him when he's out of the game. Soon, the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history will be reunited on the court.
"Two-plus years is a long time," Curry told reporters after the game when asked about Thompson. "I think going into this particular season and him getting closer than he's ever been to getting back on the floor. Kind of predicted this would be the hardest part of his journey because he's got the basketball back in his hands every day, he's feeling like himself. He's playing pick-up [games], he's around our practices, and he's back with us in those types of situations, but he's still not on the court. And the good things is we're talking weeks instead of months now.
"Super proud of the way he's approached this two-year window because it's -- unless he wants to write a book and tell every step of the way -- nobody will understand what he's been through, away from the game for so long. And it shows how much this game matters to him. And it's rare these days to have somebody as pure as Klay just feel every bit of what basketball brings to him. It's going to hit him at times, and we've got to continue to be there to support him and speak positively about him and what he's accomplished because, again, this is his journey. Nobody can speak to what he's been through."
Thompson has missed the last 29 months while recovering first from a torn left ACL and then a torn right Achilles. While he has started participating in 5-on-5 scrimmages, the Warriors haven't announced a return date for the five-time NBA All-Star.