During the 2019 NBA Finals, Klay Thompson was having the series of his life. With Kevin Durant injured, Thompson knew it was up to him and Steph Curry to get things done if they wanted any chance at defeating a motivated Toronto Raptors roster that boasted the likes of Kawhi Leonard. At one point in the series, the Raptors were up 3-1, but in Game 5, Thompson and Curry were able to light it up as they won the match and brought the series to 3-2. Heading back to Oakland, there was a lot of pressure on both sides. If the Raptors were to lose, they would have to play Game 7 against a more experienced team. If the Warriors lost, they would ultimately lose the Finals in their very last match at the Oracle Arena in Oakland.
Game 6 proved to be a back and forth affair, with the Warriors gaining the advantage in the third quarter. Thompson was playing exceptionally well as he fed into the “Game 6 Klay” nickname that had made him so famous. He was looking to go for a light 40 points, however, disaster struck at the most inopportune time. While going to the basket, Thompson went down and immediately began clutching at his knee, before limping to the hallway. The crowd was completely silent during this time, although they eventually gave Klay a standing ovation when he returned to the floor to take his free throws, before leaving the game again. The made free throws brought Thompson’s point total to 30, however, his injury proved costly as the Warriors never recovered, allowing the Raptors to take home their first championship.
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It was a demonstration of just how important of a player Thompson truly is. To reinforce this, the Warriors finished dead last in the league during the 2019-2020 season, although this was mostly due to major injuries to other stars like Steph Curry. In 2020, following the NBA bubble, it seemed like Thompson would be able to come back, although, in an unfortunate set of circumstances, he tore his Achilles, which kept him out for another year. Once again, the Warriors were simply not as potent in his absence and they missed the postseason for the second year in a row, as a result.
If you’ve been keeping track at home, it has been two and a half years since Thompson stepped on the court for some in-game action. This past week, it was revealed by Shams Charania of The Athletic that Thompson will likely be given the green light to participate in full practices soon, which means a return to game action could potentially be just a few months away. This is particularly interesting because the Warriors are the best team in the NBA right now, with a record of 10-1. Despite Thompson’s absence, Curry is putting up MVP-level numbers, while the team’s role players continue to shine. The Warriors are now figuring out how to play as a complete unit, and with Klay’s return looming in the distance, some feel like this team is about to make a similar run to 2015, when the Warriors won their first and only title of this era without Kevin Durant on the roster.
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Will Thompson make that much of an impact, though, or are fans and analysts just prisoners of the moment right now? Well, it really all depends on how quickly Thompson is able to get back to his old ways. ACL tears and Achilles injuries can be devastating for certain players. These injuries affect one of the most important extremities you have, and they affect how explosive you can be. While Durant is an example of how modern medicine enhances the recovery process, there is no guarantee that Thompson will experience the same fate. What he doesn’t have going for him though, is the fact that he is a catch-and-shoot type player, which means he doesn’t have to be explosive like some other positions would. Not to mention, he has looked great in shootarounds, which is an indication that he is more than comfortable when executing his jump shot.
What many are forgetting at this point is the fact that Thompson and Curry make up one of the best backcourt duos in NBA history. They are called the “Splash Brothers” for a reason, and it’s safe to assume that they will terrorize the league once they are reunited. Thompson and Curry are two of the five greatest shooters of all time, with Curry cementing himself as the GOAT when it comes to that territory. With Draymond Green, Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins, and a whole host of others providing elite role player support, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to believe that this team will win it all if they can maintain their health.
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In the context of the Western Conference, teams like the Clippers are without their best player, while the Lakers are having major chemistry issues, and LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been unreliable in terms of their availability. With that being said, the Western Conference is looking to be exploited, and the Warriors are right there to assert their dominance. As of right now, there aren’t too many teams that could seriously challenge them for a title, and with Klay, that only becomes more true.
Of course, these sorts of predictions can put a lot of pressure and stress on a player. There is no guarantee that Thompson comes back and immediately becomes the player we all came to know. Regardless, the last two years have proven that the Warriors are a much better team when he’s on the floor, and with the start they are currently having, it would be disingenuous to think Thompson wouldn’t put this squad over the edge.