What else would you expect him to say?
Klay Thompson was at the peak of his powers during the NBA Finals, if not in peak condition. In between the pulled hamstring that kept him out of Game 3 against the Toronto Raptors and torn ACL that ended his series in Game 6, the Golden State Warriors shooting guard might have been the best player on either team as he put up 26 points a game while shooting 58.5 per cent from three.
He was in the midst of a masterpiece – 30 points on 12 shots in 32 minutes – when he went up for a dunk in the third quarter of Game 6, was fouled by Danny Green and came down awkwardly, ripping up his knee.
In his first comments since, the Warriors guard said what he, the Warriors, their fanbase and likely most of the NBA have been thinking all summer.
“In my mind, yes, we would’ve won if I didn’t get hurt,” Thompson told The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson II in a feature published Monday.
The sharpshooter wasn’t spitting sour grapes. A three-time champion can only think that way — can only believe that, were he physically able, he could have changed history.
He went on to add that injuries and what-ifs are part of sports and acknowledged that the Warriors’ quasi-dynasty was bolstered in part by key injuries to their opponents along the way. But still, in his heart and mind he believes the Warriors lost their title more than the Raptors won it.
“But that’s just the nature of sports, you know? What-ifs? It doesn’t matter. It’s if you do your deed or not,” he said. “In my mind, I think we would’ve [won].”
But from a Raptors perspective, Thompson’s comments are variations on a theme.
Sure, Toronto might have won their first title in their 24th year and will celebrate their silver anniversary as defending champs, but it’s hard not to get the sense that the world at large looks at their win as something between an anomaly and a fluke.
“It will probably be the last time they will be in the Finals.”
Would the Raptors have had their epic parade and Marc Gasol his epic hangover if Durant hadn’t torn his Achilles tendon in his first game back after missing six weeks with a calf strain?
That he had 11 points in the 12 minutes he did play in the series and the Warriors were up by five early in the second quarter of Game 5 when he crumpled to the floor at Scotiabank Arena might bolster the argument.
Even Stephen Curry got in on the act, sporting a box-and-one hoodie with “Respect the Game” written in small script, which could only be a reference to the unusual defence – Curry famously introduced “janky” into the lexicon as a not-so-favourable adjective at the time – Raptors head coach Nick Nurse pulled out to limit the Warriors star in the fourth quarter of Game 3.
The Raptors not only needed injuries to knock off the two-time defending champs — they also needed gimmicks, was the message.
According to the culture, the Raptors’ win was a blip that can be looked over as we look ahead.
When the trailer for NBA2K20 was released this past August, sharp-eyed Raptors fans were quick to notice that the defending champions got barely a moment’s screen time in the 89-second video – and that was when the Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard was dunking on his old team.
But this is the territory the Raptors are traversing, although comforted by their championship rings and all the shots with the Larry OB on the ’gram.
The critics can poke and prod all they want, but it won’t change the fact that Kyle Lowry came out like a house-on-fire in the opening moments of Game 6 at Oracle or that Fred VanVleet shut the place down for good in the fourth.
The parade happened.
But if the post-Kawhi Raptors are in any need of something to rally around as they open their training camp in Quebec City this coming Sunday, there shouldn’t be any shortage of material.
The storyline is the Raptors’ out-of-nowhere title was the Kawhi Leonard Show and the Finals MVP bolted to the Clippers in the summer not only because he was pining for Southern California all along, but because he recognized that the Raptors’ chances of repeating were minimal: too many things had gone right – like Leonard’s series winner against the Philadelphia 76ers bouncing four times on the rim and dropping in, rather than out – to reasonably expect a rerun.
As Fox Sports opinion machine Jason Whitlock put it after Leonard signed with the Clippers: “Toronto got lucky winning the world championship and Kawhi Leonard will … Kawhi was smart enough to look around at that team in Toronto and think, ‘Man, run this back? We can’t win another championship here.’”
The 2019-20 season hasn’t even started, but the Raptors’ winter of disrespect is coming.
Soon enough we get to see what they’re going to do about it.