From Klay Thompson’s one-on-one with WarriorsWorld’s Jesse Taylor last month:
When did you notice the difference in your defense and realize that you were able to stop some really good players?
I’ve always thought I could play defense, going back to high school and then college. I think my shooting and scoring always outshined it.
As for the NBA, it was probably midseason this year when I thought, “Oh, I can actually guard some of these guys.” That’s when the confidence really came.
Was there a certain player or a certain game where it really hit you?
Yeah, I’d say when we played the Spurs at home and wore those T-shirts. Remember that game?
Yep. Who can forget the yellow jerseys?
Tony Parker came into that game really hot, averaging like 24 and 10, and shooting high 50s from the field. (note: Parker was averaging 29.3 points on 57% shooting in his previous six games and 9.1 assists in his previous seven games)
I thought I did a great job against him in that game on national TV. I thought people finally noticed then that I could be a versatile player, not just an offensive guy.
Klay Thompson’s game is far from a finished product, but in his second season as the Warriors starting shooting guard he’s proved to be an invaluable piece to the Warriors ever-changing puzzle. Thompson was third in the NBA this season in three pointers made with 211 — behind only Stephen Curry’s NBA record (272) and Ryan Anderson (213) — and is often in the discussion for best shooter not named Curry in the league.
His decision making on the offensive end, layups and turnovers gets the criticism, and deservedly so. But Thompson has proven throughout his early career — especially this season — that his defense is what matters most to this team’s success. He’s much more than a shooter. He knows he’s gotten better in this area and he knows his team needs his presence on the defensive end to compete to the best of their ability.
What happened at the end of Game 1 was a series of unfortunate events, many of which could’ve been avoided.
Thompson picked up two fouls in the first quarter, limiting his aggressiveness on the defensive end the rest of the night. Facing the likes of Tony Parker, Thompson would need all the fouls he could get against Parker’s aggressive style of play. Thompson is starting to understand certain player’s moves and tendencies, as he explained in his previous interview on this site. Foul count is important in any game, but in a road playoff game against San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, there’s no greater importance.
Thompson is the LeBron James of this team on the defensive end, for lack of a better term. He’s constantly thrown on the opposing team’s best perimeter player with the hopes of shutting him down or limiting him any way possible. This idea of “position-less” players on either end can be attributed to the flowing landscape of the league. A league where position titles (PG, SG, SF, etc) are becoming less and less important, the need for intangibles, size and smarts have proven much more important. Like the tired “Is Curry a PG or SG?” argument, the discussion is moot. Play your role, not your position.
Thompson is playing his role, and without him on the floor the Warriors were lost, confused and outmatched the final four minutes of Game 1. Thompson picked up his fifth foul with 8:02 left in the game when he gave Kawhi Leonard a slight hand check in the back on a rebound attempt. His sixth foul — and the beginning of the Spurs 18-2 run — came with 3:57 left when Parker drove to the paint and into Thompson, falling to the ground under the basket and drawing the foul. Both of these questionable calls that could’ve gone either way, but the Warriors haven’t built enough report with the league yet and being as the game was in Texas, the call wasn’t going their way.
Parker had 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting in 33 minutes when Thompson fouled out. He finished with 28 points on 11-of-26 shooting (6-6 FT), eight rebounds and eight assists
Thompson was key in the Denver series as he was matched up with Ty Lawson and will be of greater importance as the San Antonio series progresses. Thompson will shade Tony Parker throughout, and as the Spurs grow increasingly older by the day the need to keep the frenchman in check will prove vital. Sharp cuts, positioning and ball movement will all be there from the Spurs, and while Thompson can’t play every second of this series (at least I don’t think he can), he will effect in one way or another how the team performs in all these given situations.
Whether he’s playing on-ball or off-ball, Thompson’s physical gifts and work ethic is what has propelled him to this status as defensive stopper. He has the lateral quickness to keep up with most guards and physical stature to check most forwards. He’s worked tremendously hard both on the court and off with help from coaches and players and equally as important, has learned to understand defenses, schemes and tendencies. This evolution was visible earlier this season, but as the postseason is upon us and possessions become increasingly important, his presence on the defensive end of the floor has become beyond pivotal.
The Warriors loss isn’t all on Thompson’s absence in the last 3:57: Jarrett Jack had defensive lapses and the offense became sluggish. Still, do the Warriors win this game if Thompson plays the entire last stanza? I believe so. Thompson acknowledges he was maybe too aggressive in his defense of Parker, but it’s hard to argue that being aggressive is ever a bad thing. Smart aggression is beautiful, reaching into the lane while a defender is dumb aggression. That isn’t Thompson, and while others may look at his dumbfounded looks on the court or lack of personality as signs of this, they couldn’t be further from the truth.
Points get the highlights, and Thompson’s offensive output is still important to this team. With that said, this team can still win games with bad offensive games from the second year guard (See: Game’s 3-6 against Denver). It might take another Curry 3Q barrage or collection of Jarrett Jack midrange shots, but this team can win games with a bad shooting night from Thompson. Conversely, the Warriors can’t win without him playing his quality of defense for the majority of the game. He’ll naturally become more aware of his fouls because of what happened Game 1, so unless the officiating crew consists of three Bennie Adams, Thompson will out there. His importance on that end of the floor can’t be overstated, and it’s time all become aware that his defense is a far more important asset to the Warriors than his shooting is.
“It was killing me to watch from the sidelines,” Thompson said. “I’ve got to be smarter than that. I play aggressive, but maybe limit to three or four fouls a night, just for the sake of our team because I need to be out there.”
That they do.