Klay Thompson tore his ACL in his left knee in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday. He was helped off the court with about two minutes left in the third quarter but didn’t get all the way to the locker room.
“I think what happened was he wasn’t aware of the rule that if you don’t shoot the free throws, you can’t come back in the game,” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the Toronto Raptors clinched their first championship with a 114-110 victory. “So I think somebody told him in the hallway. Klay being Klay, he just turned right around and came back and shot the free throws.”
Thompson made them both, and then he tried to run back down the court for the ensuing defensive possession. The Warriors took an intentional foul to make a substitution, but Thompson didn’t want to leave. As he jogged off, full of adrenaline and presumably unaware of the severity of the injury, he told Kerr that he would be ready after a two-minute rest. According to ESPN’s Doris Burke, Thompson jumped up and down once he got to the locker room, trying to get loose. Knowing that he tore his ACL, thinking about that is sadder than it was to see him leave the arena on crutches.
Draymond Green gushed at the podium. He said the Warriors love Thompson because he’s a warrior — “and obviously that’s no pun intended with that, but there’s no other way to describe him” — and said he has the most heart of anyone on the team. Green also called him “crazy, to say the least,” and he meant it in the most complimentary way possible.
One other thing Green said, though, should not be forgotten: “He was carrying us.”
Thompson scored a game-high 30 points on 8-for-12 shooting before he went down, sitting only for one minute and 49 seconds at the end of the first quarter. They had a five-point lead after he hit those free throws. The image of him coming back onto the court will be iconic, just like Kobe Bryant shuffling toward the free throw line with a ruptured Achilles six years ago. I am not sure this 3-pointer in transition will stand the test of time the same way, but it should:
For most of NBA history, zero professional basketball players would dare to attempt that kind of shot. Three of his teammates had yet to cross halfcourt; four Raptors had. It is listed as a 28-footer, but it felt longer. It is as audacious an attempt as you could imagine, and yet it looked easy, thanks to his picture-perfect form. You would never have known that he missed Game 3 of the Finals with a strained hamstring, which typically makes it difficult to stop on a dime.
The shot was classic Klay. It is the kind of play that drains opponents of their energy. Toronto thought it was about to have a five-point lead on the preceding fast break; moments later, it trailed by five, with the crowd going bonkers.
Had Thompson not suffered an injury that will likely keep him out deep until next season, the story from the last game at Oracle Arena might be his Game 6 heroics, yet again. No one who watched him torch the Oklahoma City Thunder three years ago will ever forget it. He made the Houston Rockets his victims in last year’s conference finals and this year’s second round. It is impossible to know whether or not Toronto could have withstood more of his onslaught, a cruel twist in a Finals that had already featured one basketball tragedy.
Whenever Thompson catches fire, it is a marvel. His explosions are different, even, from when Stephen Curry goes off, thanks to the bigger Splash Brother’s style. Thompson has had to be a bit more of a playmaker lately without Kevin Durant, but his game is predicated on off-ball movement and an impossibly quick release. He runs like hell, makes defenders chase him and is constantly on the hunt for the sliver of space he needs to get his shot off.
Occasionally, though, Thompson surprises you with the ball in his hands. In the first quarter, he hit Pascal Siakam with a crossover, got the versatile forward on his heels and created a 3-pointer that would be a terrible look for most people. Again, though, he squared up, lifted off and released it with confidence. To him, it was clean:
The Warriors’ season did not end the way they envisioned, but Thompson’s performance, like Green’s magnificent Game 7 in the 2016 Finals, will go down in history anyway. Golden State fans will always remember how he made them believe the series would shift back to Toronto, and the devastating feeling that followed.
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