Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson has accomplished a lot in his illustrious career.
A five-time all-star, a three-time champion, an NBA-record 37 points scored in a single quarter and even a 60-spot in a game in under 30 minutes of floor time.
As he explained to The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson II (subscription required), however, Thompson now holds a couple free throws he took with 2:22 remaining in the third quarter of Game 6 of this year’s NBA Finals as his new crowning achievement.
Just a few minutes before taking those foul shots, Thompson was going up for a fast-break dunk but fell awkwardly and ended up tearing the ACL in his left knee – he just didn’t know it yet.
Following the play, Thompson remained on the floor and needed assistance to walk off the Oracle Arena court. But then, somewhat miraculously, he waltzed back out of the tunnel, stepped to the line and drilled both free throws as if nothing had happened to him.
He was subsequently subbed off shortly afterward because he had just suffered a severe knee injury, but this is a moment Thompson will never forget.
“I knew I hurt something, but I’ve just never done an ACL or any type of ligament,” Thompson told The Athletic. “I’ve never torn nothing in my life. So, when I did that, I thought it might have been a sprained knee. Maybe I’d go back … I didn’t even think about it. I just heard that I had to go shoot the free throws and I literally just turned around and walked back like I had to.”
Missing games simply isn’t what Thompson does. Over the span of his eight-season career, he’s been forced to be sidelined in just 26 games (including only one in the post-season).
And while Game 6 of the Finals counted as a game played for Thompson, it wasn’t a game finished.
Those free throws he hit appear to hold a special place in his heart mainly because they speak to the pride he takes in his toughness. If he could’ve had a re-do, though, Thompson believes things could’ve gone a little differently for him and the Warriors.
“In my mind, yes, we would’ve won if I didn’t get hurt,” Thompson said.
It’s a statement that’s sure to trigger some Raptors fans, but in the context of the kind of game — and series — Thompson was having he might not be that far off base. Thompson finished with 30 points on 8-of-12 shooting in the game and was by far the most effective Warrior on the floor, as he also hounded Kawhi Leonard to his worst game of the entire series.
“Kawhi is one of the best players in the world,” Thompson said. “Man, we were in the same pre-draft workouts eight years ago, going toe-to-toe, like, battling — 1-on-1 drills, 3-on-3 drills. I’m like, ‘Just because it’s the NBA Finals, it’s no different. I know I can hang with him.’”
But as much as Thompson would’ve liked to not get hurt and give his team a shot at a third-straight title, it ultimately wasn’t to be. So while Thompson feels like his level of play at the time – “I felt like the best version I’ve ever felt of myself in that NBA Finals” – would’ve been enough to carry the Warriors to the top of the mountain again, he’s not making excuses.
“That’s just the nature of sports, you know? What-ifs? It doesn’t matter. It’s if you do your deed or not. In my mind, I think we would’ve. But you never know. That’s the hard part you’ve got to accept. I look at all the guys who had bad luck getting injured against us the last few years, and I’ve honestly become so much more sympathetic. Yeah. That’s just the nature of the beast.”
Thompson signed a five-year, $90-million maximum contract to remain with Golden State in the off-season. He isn’t expected to be back until after the all-star break at the earliest.