OAKLAND – The shots kept falling, splashing through the net from all over the court, jumpers from 20 feet, from 25, from 30, layups from one side of the bucket, then the other. Klay Thompson was tap-dancing all over the Indiana Pacers.
It didn’t seem logical that a self-respecting NBA team like the Pacers would allow one man to put on a personal showcase, with them as the victims.
That’s precisely what Thompson did Monday night, before the 200th consecutive sellout crowd at Oracle Arena, pouring in 60 points – more than he has ever scored in a game, more than anyone in the NBA his scored this season – in a 142-106 crushing of Indiana.
“Klay did do a good job of moving without the ball,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “Tonight, he was moving and they were finding him.
“We needed to get more help, and we didn’t. He lit us up.”
In scoring 60 points in only 29 minutes – he exited with 1:22 left in the third quarter and did not return – Thompson found a zone above even the most ethereal zones. He happened upon a place even the most hallowed most NBA players never get the privilege of experiencing.
“That’s a feat I would put money on to probably never be touched ever again in the history of basketball,” said Stephen Curry, the reigning scoring champion as well as back-to-back MVP.
“I don’t even know what to say,” said Kevin Durant, the four-time scoring champ who also has an MVP trophy to his name. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
With Thompson raining shots, his teammates standing and clapping and boogieing to the roar of the crowd, the Pacers were helpless witnesses to their own dismantling. As Thompson sizzled, and their defense fizzled, one thing became clear: There would be no double-teaming of the hottest shooter in the NBA this season.
How do you double-team Thompson, who plays mostly without the ball, when he’s sharing the court with Curry and Durant? You don’t. You take your chances and hope. And if Thompson is stroking it, you’re in trouble.
The Pacers tried numerous defenders on Thompson and none was up to the challenge. The Warriors, smelling the Pacers’ futility, went after them with a vengeance.
“You could see that once he got hot, Steph was looking for him and Draymond (Green) and KD and Andre (Iguodala) and Zaza (Pachulia), they were all looking for him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“I’ve said this before, but I really believe the strength of our team the last few years offensive is the number of guys that can pass and make plays. What’s really gratifying as a coach is when you see that type of unselfishness.”
By the time Indiana’s superstar, Paul George, took the assignment, trying to cool Thompson, it was well into the third quarter, much too late. Thompson had made 21 of his 33 shots, including eight of his 14 launches from beyond the arc. He had become the first player in the shot-clock era (beginning in 1954-55) to score 60 points in fewer than 30 minutes.
He had hung the Pacers on a wall.
“I will celebrate this tonight,” said Thompson, whose previous career-high was 52 points. “It’s a feat I never really thought I would be able to do growing up.”
Asked if could have scored 80 points, Thompson barely skipped a beat.
“Maybe. I think I could have,” he said. “And maybe one day I will have the opportunity. 60 points in 29 minutes is not bad. I’m satisfied with that.”
His teammates were beyond satisfied. They were delighted. Enchanted. Durant scored 20 points and was agape at Thompson’s performance. Curry had 13 points, 11 assists and zero turnovers and was unusually demonstrative in recapping Thompson’s night.
“We just kept feeding him and feeding him, and he was knocking down some unbelievable shots,” Durant said.
“It was just so much fun to watch,” Curry said. “We appreciate that entertainment value as his teammates to see what he was able to do tonight. It was crazy.”
This was Thompson, taking full and extravagant advantage of both his own shooting skill as well as the benefit of teammates too lethal for any defense to ignore.
All of which left the other 29 teams around the NBA watching and wondering where on earth do they turn if any Thompson or Curry or Durant enters a zone.
This is quite the quandary, and it’s precisely what the Warriors had in mind when they hired Durant.