Klay Thompson’s most complete performance good sign for Warriors’ road trip

Klay’s most complete game a good sign for Dubs’ road trip originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO – For three full days and nights, Klay Thompson lived with his very public blunder in Utah, which stole victory from the Warriors. He owned it. Relived it. Hungered for redemption and knowing when and how to get it.

Saturday night, on national TV, against the rampaging Boston Celtics.

If Thompson could somehow pull the slumping Warriors past the hottest team in the NBA, he could breathe freely and embrace the night.

Those moments of self-reflection led directly to Thompson’s most complete performance in more than three years, since before two major injuries made it reasonable to wonder if he’d ever again be as complete.

Thompson’s 34 points were welcome but not surprising. His defense, which anchored a 123-107 win that stands as Golden State’s most impressive of the season, was a blast from the past.

“For sure,” longtime backcourt partner Stephen Curry said. “I know he was motivated coming off of the way the game went in Utah and turning the page and taking the challenge on. He started on (Celtics forward Jayson) Tatum to start the game, try to make it difficult on him. He made plays on both ends.

“I think offensively the game was connected. When you’re locked in defensively, you’re worried about the things that impact the flow of the game and your matchup and your challenge there and usually, you’re rewarded with looks and a good rhythm and flow on offense and it’s just about making shots. And we know he can do that. So, it was great to see everything connect on both ends for him and for our team.”

Thompson’s harassment of Tatum — an MVP candidate — swung the game toward the Warriors. Tatum scored 18 points, shooting 28.6 percent (6-of-21) from the field, including 22.2 percent (2-of-9) from distance.

Which stands in stark contrast to Tatum’s first 25 games this season, during which he averaged 30.5 points, on 48.0 percent shooting, 36.5 from beyond the arc.

“We just tried to make things as difficult as possible,” coach Steve Kerr said. “(Tatum) is such a great player and I thought we closed out on him pretty well. He got nine 3-pointers up, but a lot of them were off the dribble and felt like half of those were off the dribble and those are much tougher for everybody, doesn’t matter who you are. We just tried to stay active and stay in front of them and bother him as best we could.”

Draymond Green pitched in defending Tatum, as did Jonathan Kuminga. But this was Klay’s primary assignment, and he needed this. He was so pleased with his work, and the outcome, that he fairly breezed through his postgame news conference while folding the stat sheet into a paper airplane.

It’s conceivable that Thompson proved something he might have doubted.

“I cherish being able to move out there on defense and compete more than I ever have before,” he said. “When you face the best, your game usually reflects that, and you try to rise to the level of competition.”

Thompson set the tone early, 82 seconds after tipoff, when he pinned a Tatum layup attempt to the backboard, delighting the sellout crowd (18,064) at Chase Center.

“It felt really good to pin somebody off the backboard; I haven’t done that in I think four years,” he said. “That was probably my favorite moment for myself tonight.

“It wasn’t just me. I had a lot of help and Jayson missed a lot of shots that he usually makes. It was a collective effort, but I thought my energy was great to start the game.”

Thompson’s defense, particularly with Andrew Wiggins (right adductor tightness) out indefinitely, was so impressive it allows the Warriors to put some conviction behind their faith about how far this season can go.

If Thompson can defend at elite level when called for, that facet of the game, which the Warriors have missed this season, has a chance to recover.

And if defense becomes an asset, it’s entirely possible Golden State can rise from mediocrity and make a repeat trip to the NBA Finals.

“Klay was great,” Kerr said. “He’s an excellent defender and he’s strong. That’s probably his best attribute is just his size and his ability to withstand an athlete, a player like Tatum, who’s big and strong and athletic. Then it felt right just because you got Loon (Kevon Looney) and Draymond (Green) behind the play, and they’re our best rotators and communicators. Klay did an excellent job.”

So much for Thompson’s blown defensive assignment against the Jazz. The haunting is lifted. It’s in the past.

“That was a terrible experience,” Thompson said. “To kind of respond the way that we did felt great. We were able to flush that one in Salt Lake after that collapse, so it’s always nice to respond with a great performance and we did that tonight.”

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Now comes another question the Warriors can’t answer until next week: Can they take that terrific defense on the road, where they have lost 11 of 13 games?

If Thompson can play with this degree of focus and ferocity, and do it consistently, finding wins on the road is altogether likely.

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