TORONTO – The injury wasn’t as severe and the risk not as great, but Klay Thompson rushed back to play in the NBA Finals, too, and with a wrong twist or turn, it might have been him crumpled on the Scotiabank Arena floor, felled by fate’s cruelty like Kevin Durant.
Only he couldn’t allow himself to think that way, not with the stakes in the moment, not with his importance amplified all the more to the Golden State Warriors.
"I just keep pressing on," Thompson said after a riveting 106-105 victory Monday night over the Toronto Raptors left an expectant country’s championship dreams on hold, and sent the teams back to Oakland for Game 6 on Thursday. "You can’t be out on the court thinking, ‘I hope I don’t get injured.’ That’s when you get injured. So for me, I just try to refocus, man. But that was very deflating."
Deflating, but not defeating. On multiple occasions Thompson, who strained his left hamstring late in Game 2, sat out Game 3 and returned for Friday’s Game 4, said "We do it for Kevin" from this point forward. Thanks in large measure to his brilliant shooting from distance, the Warriors still have a chance to do precisely that.
Along with fellow Splash Brother Stephen Curry, who went 5-of-14 from beyond the arc in a dominant 31-point night, Thompson made the Raptors pay for letting their guard down on the perimeter, 21 of his 26 points coming on 7-of-13 three-point shooting.
His steeliness was crucial in the final minutes after the Raptors had taken a 103-97 lead with 3:28 remaining, dropping in a trey after Kawhi Leonard missed a tough fadeaway to make it a one-possession game with 2:32 left.
Curry dropped another three after a Kyle Lowry miss that tied things up with 1:22 left, and then when a Leonard triple wouldn’t fall, Thompson took a deft pass from Draymond Green, neatly evaded a leaping Leonard, and calmly sank what turned out to be the winning bucket.
"We’ve been down big before, we’ve been down in fourth quarters, late in games and Coach [Steve] Kerr drew up a couple great sets and me and Steph just got clean looks," said Thompson. "You don’t want to give us too many of those because they will go in most of the time."
Over and over Thompson and Curry reinforced that, and even without Durant, the Warriors can certainly keep pulling themselves back into the series if they keep shooting like that.
"I’ve seen it an awful lot," Kerr said of the dominance from distance. "It doesn’t happen every night but it seems to happen most nights. They’re amazing. They’re amazing competitors, great shooters. Mark Jackson said it years ago, they’re the best shooting backcourt of all time.
"But maybe what people don’t know is how competitive they are, and I thought that showed tonight."
That competitiveness showed up on the defensive end, too, with Thompson making life difficult for the Raptors during his game-high 42:29, especially during the final possession, as the Warriors hung onto to a one-point lead.
As Leonard charged in at the top of the key, Thompson cut off his path as the primary defender and got help from Andre Iguodala, forcing a pass to Fred VanVleet. VanVleet then tried to cut toward the hoop but instead swung the ball out to Lowry for a corner three, where Green had enough time to get just enough of the ball to prevent it from falling.
"Two guys came up on me, I don’t know if I could have got a shot off," said Leonard. "It’s hard. If you’ve got two guys on top of you, you have to try to find the right play. We ended up getting a shot in the corner, but it just didn’t go off quick enough."
Said Kerr: "Our defence was bending down the stretch, but we didn’t break and the last stop was tremendous. Amazing defence on that last play from all five guys."
Still, the Durant injury killed any joy the Warriors might have found in the victory.
Team president Bob Myers fought back tears as he revealed that Durant had suffered an Achilles injury and said anyone searching for someone to blame could blame him. Kerr discussed the "bizarre feeling" of experiencing a win and a loss at the same time. Curry spoke of stepping out of the NBA bubble to care for a teammate as a person rather than a basketball player.
Thompson wore a grim face throughout his session with reporters, eyes mostly down, speaking without his usual verve and charisma. "It’s hard to even celebrate this win," he said morosely.
"It obviously inspires you to play harder knowing your best player can’t be out there," he said later. "You think of him every time you dive for a loose ball or go for a rebound, because I know him and I know how bad he wants to be out there. That’s why he was out there.
"I can tell you this, he wants us to compete at the highest level, and we’ll think of him every time we step on the hardwood."
They should, as Durant came back to try and rescue the Warriors from a 3-1 deficit and, to a degree, he did, with 11 crucial points in a game with the slimmest of margins. Now, he’s done for the season, likely for far longer, leaving Thompson, another superstar who returned from injury to try and resuscitate a dynasty in danger, to help finish the job.