SAN FRANCISCO – Now, the trick is how to create a magic without trying. The current Warriors’ plight – after a 121-106 win over the Lakers in Game 5 on Wednesday to keep their season alive – calls for a particular brand of rarity. It evokes memories of a past glory, the kind that made Klay Thompson a myth and brought ownership to its knees.
They can use Game 6 Klay.
Thompson certainly felt it fit. His slump continued even at the Chase Center, where he was last seen burning. But since his 30-point performance in Game 2, when he made 8 of 11 from 3, he’s been shooting like ceramic. He totaled 34 points on 37 shots in Games 3-5 combined. Like Clay Thompson.
“He’s amazing everywhere,” Gary Payton II said. “It came to some big stops. Big.”
However, the longer the downturn, the greater the expectation of an explosion. He never stayed.
With a season and a dynasty hanging in the balance, the way these Western Conference semifinals have unfolded, now is an appropriate time for one of his specials. This plot seems predictable.
Think about it. Thompson grew up in SoCal rooting for the Lakers, the team his father played for and now works as a broadcaster. He idolized Kobe Bryant, who turned the ol’ Staples Center into a palace. Now, Thompson heads home for the biggest game of the season, in front of his friends and family, on the court of his dreams, with a chance to be a hero. And he went into this scenario having made 8 of his last 24 from 3.
This script writes itself.
That is also a concern. Because summoning the legend isn’t as automatic as it used to be. When the persona was born, in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference finals, it felt as easy to invite as saying “Beetlejuice” three times. Because his devastating leg injuries took him two seasons, and now that he’s 33 years old, conjuring is even more dangerous. This comes with more risk. Many times since he came back, his determination to be who he was kept him from reaching that level. Friday will require a fine balance from Thompson.
Aggressive and patient.
Ambitious but confident.
Hungry instead of thirsty.
The encouraging aspect for the Warriors is that they won’t need an epic Game 6. Beating the Lakers in this series so far hasn’t required a big performance. But an effective one is the most important. The way the Lakers defend Stephen Curry, traded to stop him, leaves them vulnerable to another player punishing them. They dared the other Warriors to defeat them.
What’s more, the game plan for the Warriors is to surge. They want to run. They want to attack from all angles. And they have to make 3s. Especially on the road. Game 5 proved how difficult they are to defend when others are aggressive and rolling.
In Game 5, the Warriors plan to run the Lakers and keep running
Wednesday, Andrew Wiggins turned it up a notch.
His 25 points were the most he has scored since Game 5 of the last NBA Finals, when he scored 26 to put the Celtics on the brink of elimination. His 18 shots were the second most he’s taken this postseason, just ahead of the 19 shots he took in Game 2 against Sacramento in the first round.
But the numbers don’t speak to the juice the Warriors get from Wiggins’ aggression, how he forces rotations by working aggressively in the paint and by punishing poor defenders. He also had 5 assists because the pressure he applied created openings for others. Wiggins was a release valve for an offense that was squeezed by the Lakers’ defense.
“Wiggs is aggressive as hell,” Draymond Green said.
Wiggins said he thinks he missed some offensive opportunities in Game 4. In doing so, the Lakers failed. The offense is more focused on getting Wiggins involved on Wednesday, too, making sure he gets the touches he needs.
“This is the best version of who he is and how he impacts games,” Curry said. “His recovery with 18 shots was great. We need that every night. And it’s up to us as a team to also show him at certain points in the game because he’s athletic and he can make his own shot. You have to feed it to him and make him do what he does. “
Draymond Green set the tone. It is no coincidence that in the Warriors’ two victories in this series, Green was in double-digit field-goal attempts in each one. The Lakers were not the only ones who lost him, which caused him to create openings in his attack. But Green will also push the pace and get the chances of the Warriors’ offense before the Lakers’ defense can be set. On several occasions, Green called his own number.
It helped that he knocked down his first 3-pointer of the series, which should have taken him up a notch. But he came in with holes and was determined to be a force on offense.
The reason Payton II works so well in this series is that he can also take advantage of openings. He ran hard to grab the lanes that were opened by the diverted attention of the Lakers. He’s a very good slasher and very instinctual around the rim, he can see inside. He is 17-for-20 in the paint in this series.
The Warriors may go up 3-2 if Payton plays in the fourth quarter of Game 4.
The important thing now is that the Lakers must answer to Wiggins. Green has to be accounted for dictating the tempo. Payton needs to be accounted for. All while staring at Curry.
That might be enough to weaken Thompson for the kind of in-rhythm, under-control, in-the-flow shots he needs. The Lakers forced him to take his appearance. They prefer him to make shots off the dribble. This led to long spells of some shots for Thompson, which worked on his patience and made him stick.
In Game 4, it cost the Warriors a lot, because he missed two bad shots that gave the Lakers momentum. In Game 5, he forced some, looking for his mojo. But he realized he didn’t have it and retreated.
Before that, though, he was off a dribble handoff from Kevon Looney on the right wing. He almost came to a jump stop before the shot, seemed to focus on positioning his feet and keeping his balance straight as he shot, avoiding his tendency to lean or drift. It was a clean shot and he drilled a 3-pointer, putting the Warriors up eight with a minute left in the first half. Curry followed up with his buzzer-beating 3 and the Warriors entered the locker room with an 11-point cushion.
Thompson made just four shots in the second half.
“The thing with Klay is he’s a fantastic two-way basketball player,” Steve Kerr said. “That’s winning in the playoffs. Shooting comes and goes, even for the best. But if you can defend, which Klay clearly can, then you can help a team win a playoff game, and in Klay’s case, multiple playoff games. So the good thing is that we know Klay deserves a good shooting night, but whether it comes or not, we know that his defense will affect the game.
The last time Game 6 Klay appeared, he was seen lying on the floor of the Chase Center, holding up six fingers. That was on May 13, 2022. He went 8 of 14 from 3, leading the way with 30 as the Warriors beat Memphis.
Thompson tried to pull it off for Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Finals and was 5 of 20 from the field, making just two of his eight 3s and finishing with 12 points. It didn’t matter because the Warriors won and Möet poured all the same to celebrate the championship.
He got another chance in the last series. The Warriors could shut out Sacramento on the same floor in Game 6. He went 8-for-20, making just 2 of 9 from 3.
It feels like the perfect time to resurrect the icon. The game and the moment he dreamed of, fit the story of his career. Doing so should not try to be Game 6 Klay.
“See you on Friday,” Payton said. “What we really need is the Game 6 Warriors.”
How the Warriors targeted Anthony Davis in transition action to defeat the Lakers in Game 5
(Photo: Tyler Ross / NBAE via Getty Images)