“When you go through a shooting slump, the video guys will pull up a great game when everything seemed in unison, your body was working so well, that ball was just flowing off your fingertips,” Thompson said. “Gosh, I probably just YouTube ‘Game 6 Klay’ because there were some very high-pressurized situations I was in [where] I ended up shooting the ball well. When you can do it when your back is against the wall, you can do it at any given moment. It’s just about keeping that mental strong.”
With the Warriors and Celtics set for Game 6 on Thursday night at TD Garden, the possibility that “Game 6 Klay” might have a chance to deliver Golden State’s fourth championship in eight years isn’t lost on anyone.
Thompson has averaged 20.7 points across 12 Game 6s in his career, and last month he poured in 30 points, including eight three-pointers, in a clinching Game 6 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round. After shooting 10 for 33 from the field in the first two games against Boston, Thompson has started to find his stride, scoring 21 points and hitting five three-pointers in Monday’s Game 5 win.
“It’s obviously a nickname I earned,” Thompson said at Wednesday’s practice. “I want to live up to it. At the same time, I don’t want to go in there and play hero ball. The main goal is just to win one game. I just want to go out there and play free [and] trust my teammates. I know great things will happen if I do those two things.”
That Thompson, 32, is playing more than 37 minutes per game in the Finals should be viewed as a stunning development, even if he isn’t surprised in the slightest. During the 2019 Finals, Thompson tore the ACL in his left knee and then missed the entire 2019-20 season. Then, weeks before the 2020-21 season, Thompson ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon, an injury that sidelined him until this past January. All told, he didn’t appear in an NBA game for 941 days.
Although the Warriors missed the playoffs in both seasons of his absence, Thompson’s confidence never wavered. In November, as Golden State was still shaking off the shame of its lottery trips, Thompson declared he still had a “championship or bust” mentality. Still more than a month away from his return, he repeatedly stated how badly he wanted another championship. Reminded of Thompson’s lofty predictions during the Western Conference finals, Stephen Curry said the Warriors “would love to make him a prophet.”
The road back has had some bumps for Thompson, who shot a career-low 38.5 percent on three-point attempts this season. In the playoffs, his quick trigger occasionally has crossed the line into forcing bad shots, and he has struggled at times to move laterally while defending quicker opponents.
Even so, Coach Steve Kerr has stuck with Thompson, praising the guard’s improved defense as a factor in holding the Celtics under 100 points in three of the past four games. Kerr also credited a pair of three-pointers by Thompson in the third quarter as the “biggest shots” of Game 5 because they stunted Boston’s momentum.
Now one win from delivering on his November prediction, Thompson rarely has looked happier or more at ease. Following the Game 5 victory, the California native unfurled a lengthy, Bill Walton-like riff about the “healing properties” of the Pacific Ocean, noting that swimming in cold water is his “happy place” and makes him “feel a little closer to God,” perhaps because he is an Aquarius.
For the Warriors, most of the headlines during this series have gone to Curry, now the odds-on favorite to be the Finals MVP. Andrew Wiggins has drawn attention as the most pleasant surprise of the series, and Draymond Green has been a constant lightning rod thanks to his fierce play and brash talk.
But as the Celtics try to rein in their turnover issues and generate better scoring opportunities in the fourth quarter, they must not overlook Thompson as a threat, especially in late-game situations. Thompson said Monday that he had “never been so excited to go to Boston,” knowing he was finally in position to manifest his championship vision after so many months away.
“ ‘Game 6 Klay,’ I don’t know how he’s been able to do it,” Curry said. “Just his personality: No moment is too big for him in terms of hooping, enjoying himself, embracing hostile crowds. Obviously, the OKC game is the one at the top of the list. He has a knack for those type of big moments, and it just so happened to be Game 6. He has another opportunity to add to that tale.”