Reader’s Note: Beginning January 29, WarriorsWorld will spend two weeks examining the play of Klay Thompson. We first performed this exercise with David Lee, expecting some up and down, polarizing play. But Lee went on to play the best stretch of games in his NBA career. In his second NBA season, Thompson, on the other hand, has been the Warriors’ most inconsistent player. You can argue that he hasn’t improved much from his rookie year and has made some of the league’s most boneheaded plays this side of JaVale McGee. But when his shot is on, it’s a thing of beauty. We are providing an unbiased look by watching Klay Thompson, and only Klay Thompson, on both ends of the floor for a stretch of games ending with the All-Star break against the Houston Rockets at Oracle Arena on February 12. This first installment covers the game in Cleveland on January 29.
By: Jesse Taylor
“Hey Klay, you got the dude with the flu. Have at ‘em!”
When you hear coach Mark Jackson say that, it’s both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that, “dude,” happens to be Kyrie Irving, and his bout with the flu led to a very off game for him. A curse in that Klay was nestled next to a body of germs for several hours and may not feel so hot when he wakes up in the Bay Area the following day.
But boy was he feeling good during the game.
I haven’t done this “Watch” gimmick since I became the sole reason the Warriors now have their first All-Star since Latrell Sprewell in 1997. Do I take credit for the great play of David Lee this season? Yes I do. It wasn’t until I started “watching” him for nine games that his career really took off. I was expecting some really bad things from Lee that would fill my heart with hatred. But Instant Karma got me and David Lee got his shine on.
And now. NOW. (puffing my chest out while typing). Now Klay Thompson goes for a career-high 32 points when I start “The Watch” again after 17 games without it.
His game was on some Dr. Dre “Chronic” level greatness. It was “Chuck Wit Klay Day (And Every Shot Is Droppin’).”
Don’t worry. I know my writing has nothing to do with how these guys play. But damn did it feel good to see Klay go off like this with his squad missing 4 of its top 6 guys to injury (Barnes, Bogut, Curry, Landry).
Let’s get to the observations.
Didn’t look like a career-high night was heading our way at the start. Alonzo Gee guards Klay to open the game. Klay performs a give-and-go with Lee, but Klay can’t finish at the rim. Tyler Zeller may have fouled him there, but no call. Andris Biedrins (your Warriors starting center) tips in the miss for a 2-0 lead. Beans was left alone by Zeller because of Klay’s drive, so there is that at least.
Klay is guarding Irving to open the game and does so on just about every Cavs set play throughout the contest. Klay is screened but fights through it and receives help from Lee as Irving misses a jumper.
After curling around a few screens, Klay gets the ball at the top of key on Gee. Klay drives, but Irving quickly knocks the ball loose from behind. This leads to a Dion Waiters fast break layup that cuts the Warriors lead to 4-2.
You know what Klay needs to get going? No, not a layup. How about a nice pass? Off a screen from Lee, Klay takes a pass from Jarrett Jack and then tosses it to the rolling Lee for open layup. Nicely done. 6-2. 10:08 left in the first quarter.
Off a Cavs turnover, it looks like Klay will have an easy fast break layup, but Irving quickly catches him and traps Klay under the basket. Irving then proceeds to nudge Klay with his forearm and lower body to push him out of bounds. Looking for a call as he begins falling over the baseline border, Klay throws the ball away and no whistle is blown.
He already has two turnovers, but will only have one more the rest of the game.
Klay finally gets on the board when he receives another pass from Jack after curling off a screen (Klay does A LOT of curling off screens). He drives center lane and hangs in the air long enough to get the ball beyond Zeller and into the basket. 10-4. 8:53 left in the first.
And we’re off. Beans blocks a shot, Lee kicks it out to Klay at half court and Klay dribbles to the 3-point line on Irving. He shoots it over him for a deep three. Good.
Irving finally scores, but its on Jack as Klay picked up Waiters. Later, off a Tristan Thompson miss, Klay smartly drifts into lane away from Irving and grabs the defensive rebound.
Klay misses one of his patented difficult stop-and-pop drifting baseline jumpers. He then misses an open jumper after running through a few screens.
Quick note: For the most part, Klay has two things to do on set offensive plays. Curl around some screens to get a shot or stand at the three-point, patiently waiting for the ball to come his way. Also, his job is not to crash the offensive boards, but to make sure he gets back on defense if the opponents’ shot misses. His seven rebounds in this game were quite impressive based on this type of assignment.
Klay gets his first rest at the 2:54 mark and the Warriors up 19-17. Not a great or bad quarter. He checks back in with 9:59 in the second quarter down 25-27.
He doesn’t waste much time, hitting an open three to give the lead back to the Warriors. On this play, he did a nice job of moving along the 3-point line towards the baseline as Charles Jenkins drove into the lane. When Jenkins kicked it out to him, he had created enough space for the easy shot (well, for him that shot is easy).
He later misses an open jumper after curling around a screen. He was fading left as he shot it. But Jenkins grabs the loose rebound and finds an open (and squarely set) Klay who buries the three with 7:57 left in the half. 32-29.
Irving is out and Klay is guarding Wayne Ellington. He loses him and Ellington misses a wide open corner three. And for the record, this missed corner three did not lead to a fast break layup or dunk (inside note for those who pay attention during Warriors TV broadcasts).
Coming off a screen, Klay again drives the lane, but this time Zeller blocks his shot. He is still learning how to finish at the rim (and dribble the basketball at a professional shooting guard level).
On the next possession he plays strong help defense and forces Irving into a missed layup. But Lee just stands there on the miss, failing to block out Tristan Thompson, who grabs the offensive rebound and puts it back in. He never did that during “The David Lee Watch.”
Lee makes up for it later by grabbing a nice rebound and running the break with Klay on his right. Dribbling up the court, Lee makes a jumping bounce pass to Klay who goes up and dunks it over Zeller. It was a great aggressive finish by Klay and he avoided Zeller’s block by moving the ball to the right while in the air mid-dunk. 3:19 left in the half. 46-34. Klay with 13.
The first time Klay brings the ball up like a point guard after a Cavs made shot takes place at the 2:10 mark of the second quarter. He does this between 3-5 times a game. This sometimes causes issues for the Warriors in terms of Klay getting the ball jacked away, or him just taking too long to get into the offense. It wasn’t at issue at all on this night.
Klay’s game is now heating up. Lee grabs a rebound, hands it off to Klay, who dribbles down the floor, stops at the free throw line and pump-fakes Irving. Uncle Drew flies by Klay, who calmly drains the open jumper. Jim Barnett says Klay has been brilliant tonight. Not sure I’d go that far yet, but it’s coming.
Okay, JB, now he is: Lee finds Klay wide open for a corner three during an offensive set. Splash. This gives the Warriors a 53-40 lead with 43 seconds to go. 18 points.
Warriors lead 55-44 at the half.
Not sure I can evaluate Klay’s defense based on Irving playing like the flu is really bothering him. He has not been aggressive at all, giving Klay an easy assignment.
Irving attempts to be more aggressive to start third, but he misses a jumper on Lee and Klay.
Klay hits a tough shot over Zeller, who switched off Lee on a screen. 10:46 in third quarter. 60-48.
Klay does a third thing on an offensive set. He brings the ball up and drops it to Lee. He then sets a great back screen on Irving in the corner, who was guarding Jack. This allows Lee to find a cutting Jack open in the lane for a tough reverse layup. Based on previous plays, the Cavs expected Klay to come off a screen from Jack there, but instead they did the opposite.
Off an inbounds play, Klay takes a pass as he’s fading and shoots a jumper that rims in and out. He makes a nice defensive play on a fast break as Gee side steps Lee, but can’t escape Klay, who helps out in time to block Gee’s layup. Lee rebounds, kicks to Jack who finds a trailing Klay crossing half court. Klay pulls up and hits a deep three.
Oh my. That was a nice sequence for our man.
67-55. 7:32 left in third.
And he’s not done. On the next possession, Lee grabs a defensive rebound and tosses it up to Klay at half court. Klay dribbles three times and stutter steps Irving; then he pulls up just behind free throw line and drills a jumper.
Cavs timeout and the bench celebrates with Klay, forcing the first reaction (a smile) from Klay all game. He’s got 25 points on 10-16 shooting. Barnett also tells us Klay has 20 points in his last 16 minutes.
The timeout cools him off. Klay curls off a screen (I need to copy the phrase “curls off a screen” and just keep pasting it) and loses the ball during what looked like was going to be a forced 17-foot jumper anyway.
Oh, wait. He’s not cool anymore. Lee gets doubled in the post and finds Jack at the 3-point line. In one motion, Jack quickly hot potatoes it to Klay for an open corner three. 6:06 left in third. 72-57.
On defense, Irving finally goes at Klay, driving right by him and banking it in. But later, Klay leads a 2-on-1 fast break and makes a nice pass to Richard Jefferson, who gets fouled and hits 1-of-2 free throws.
Klay (paste) curls around a Lee screen. Klay keeps moving as Lee gets the ball in the post. Lee then finds Klay curling around a Festus Ezeli screen from Festus’ spot in the dog house. Taking the ball just behind the free throw line, Klay steps back to avoid the charging Gee and nails the jumper near the high school 3-point line.
3:46 left in third. 77-66. Klay is one off his career-high after that shot. He has 30 points on 12-18 FG (6-6 3FG).
The oven’s pre-heat timer hasn’t gone off yet, but Klay is checking the heat anyway. He bombs a three at the top of the key from several feet behind the arc with Gee in his face. Oh, and Lee had just got an offensive rebound and there were 23 seconds left on the shot clock. Unmissable he is not. But he had to find out.
Klay gets no rest in the third quarter and starts the fourth as well. Warriors lead 84-68.
Kent Bazemore makes a very unselfish play on a fast break by kicking it out to an open Klay who rims the three in and out. Bazemore could have tried a layup but wanted to reward Klay’s hot shooting.
Later, Klay makes a nice pass off the dribble after curling off a screen in the lane. He finds Lee for a wide-open baseline jumper. But Lee misses.
Jack makes another reverse layup off a back screen by Klay. Draymond Green gets the assist with a nice look to Jack.
Now Klay really is cooling off and is probably a bit winded at this point. He forces a scoop layup curling off a screen that doesn’t come close. It’s his fourth straight miss.
After Bazemore had been taking the defensive assignment on Irving in the fourth, Klay takes over again with 4:52 left and the Warriors up 10. He immediately blocks Irving’s shot on a drive. It’s important that he’s using what’s left of his energy on defense to help preserve the lead.
After setting an off-ball screen, Klay attentively sees the basket open and makes a nice back-door cut. Lee finds him under basket and Klay hits the reverse layup for his career-high 32nd point – his first points in the fourth quarter.
This put the Warriors up 13 with 1:41 left. Nothing more eventful happened until the postgame interview between Barnett and Klay.
You really couldn’t ask for a better start to “The Klay Thompson Watch.” Maybe the best offensive game of Klay’s career matched with a solid defensive effort. Irving was definitely gassed from the flu (just 14 points on 5-17 shooting with 4 assist), but Klay still played nice defense throughout the game, specifically during a few moments when Irving tried to kick it up a notch late.
We also got an awesome post-game interview clip from Klay. His awkwardness during interviews is becoming interesting to watch, but throw a crazy-acting Jack in there to make Klay even more embarrassed and you get a classic video that’s already going viral. The fact that Barnett never smiled or broke form during Jack’s hilarious break-in made it even better.
Maybe most impressive for Klay on this night was that he made more smart plays than dumb ones. Because of all the rookies and young guys on the team, we sometimes forget that Klay is just a second-year player with only 111 games under his belt (and 74 starts).
But with plays like the back-door cut for his 32nd point and the dish to Jefferson on the 2-on-1 fast break, he seemed to be more aware and in control during this game. Depending on Curry’s ankle, the Warriors may need more games like this from Klay.