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Long, winding road brings Klay Thompson back to dancing on NBA Finals stage

BOSTON — Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were dancing on the temporary stage where just 15 minutes before NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum handed them the Larry O’Brien Trophy as NBA champions. It didn’t matter that there was no music playing inside the TD Garden, the greatest shooting backcourt ever was celebrating — and Thompson doesn’t plan on stopping the dance anytime soon.

“Do a lot of dancing this summer. Dancing machine...” Thompson said.

“I was feeling just so high on life that I did not want to leave the stage, and I just know how hard this is, and to be here for a fourth time, like so grateful for my teammates.”

What made it special was the two years he couldn’t dance or do much of anything else.

On June 13, 2019, Thompson tore his ACL during Game 6 of the NBA Finals, an injury that signaled the end of a Warriors run with five straight Finals appearances (and three titles). Then, during rehab of his knee, Thompson tore his Achilles.

It tested Thompson’s resolve to return to that Finals’ stage and dance there again.

“2019, it was easier to accept because I had never been hurt before and that five-year run took a lot out of us,” Thompson said while drenched in champagne from a locker room title celebration. “But the second time it happened it was like, what the heck is going on, man.

“Just to stay with it, just calf raise after calf raise, after underwater treadmill, so many days, not even touching a ball. Then to go through this season with the ups and downs, and even these playoffs, I’m just at a loss for words at times. Because I knew this was possible but to be here in real time, man, I don’t want to leave. I want to enjoy every second of this. I know how fleeting it can be.”

Thompson put in countless hours of rehab work just to get back on the court with his teammates mid-season, yet by the June Finals he was still not his vintage, All-NBA self. Most importantly for the Warriors, his defense was ahead of his offense and he played a key role as a help defender containing Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the more athletic Celtics team. On offense, Thompson averaged 17 points a game in the Finals and hit some big 3s, but shot 35.6% overall and just did not have his touch all the way back.

However, he had plenty of fire, using every slight he saw as fuel.

“There is this one player on the Grizzlies who Tweeted ‘strength in numbers” after they beat us in the regular season and it pissed me off so much,” Thompson said, recalling a Jaren Jackson Jr. Tweet. “I can’t wait to retweet that thing. Frigging bum...

“Going to mock us? Like, you ain’t ever been there before, Bro. We been there. We know what it takes. Hold that. Twitter fingers, can you believe it? I’ve got a memory like an elephant. I don’t forget. There were a lot of people kicking us down.”

No longer. Now there is just dancing.

Steve Kerr had a front-row seat to all the work Thompson put in to get back to dancing on this stage.

“The anguish that Klay has felt over the last three years, I don’t know that — people can guess as to what it is like, but we saw it up close,” Kerr said. “And, you know, between a second year-long injury and losing what he loves to do most in life, you know, playing the game, it’s been a rough go for him.

“So his return was special for us on and off the floor because of what he’s meant to the organization, what he’s done for this team, and then of course his play.”

And don’t forget his dancing.