2022 NBA Finals: Despite Game 2 win over Celtics, Warriors need more struggling Klay Thompson

2022 NBA Finals: Despite Game 2 win over Celtics, Warriors need more struggling Klay Thompson

Everything that is written about Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson in regards to these NBA Finals should be framed by saying that him being even on the floor is awe-inspiring and inspiring.

Thompson missed two full seasons with two serious lower-body injuries and worked tirelessly to get back on the court. Some wondered if he would ever make a full comeback, just as some wondered if the Warriors trio of Thompson, Draymond Green and Steph Curry would ever return to the Finals after a few seasons.

Both of these things happened, and they both deserve recognition and even celebration. But, that said, the Warriors will simply need more Thompson — aka the second “Splash Brother” — moving forward if they are to raise their fourth banner under Steve Kerr’s tutelage.

To say Thompson was cold in the first two games of the Finals would be an understatement. In the 69 minutes he played in those two games, Thompson hit just 10 of his 33 shots from the floor (including four of 19 in Game 2), and he hit just four of his 15 long distance attempts. He recorded just 26 total points, five rebounds and four assists. Thompson was largely a non-factor in both games. Despite Thompson’s struggles, the Warriors won Game 2 on Sunday night, 107-88, after losing Game 1.

Now, Thompson’s missing shots are different from a lot of other players who miss shots, as his mere presence on the field attracts defensive attention thanks to the reputation he’s established over his career. So even when he’s not knocking down shots himself, he helps generate open opportunities for his teammates, like he did here:

Thompson isn’t directly involved in the play, but he takes Jaylen Brown out of the action. Brown doesn’t want to leave Thompson open, and that in turn opens a traffic lane for Curry coming out of the dribble transfer. Such a value doesn’t necessarily appear on the stat sheet, but Thompson brings it in spades. He’s even more valuable to the Warriors, though, when he knocks down shots at a high clip — like he did in Golden State’s closing game against the Dallas Mavericks (32 points on 12 of 25 shots) and Memphis Grizzlies (30 points from 11 of 22 shots).

So how can Thompson come back to this? Maybe slowing things down a bit. It seems he has pressed very lightly in the final so far. It almost seems like he’s so eager to take down the big shots that we’re all used to seeing him punch that he sometimes forces things. He also seems to be letting frustration seep in, as he could be seen clapping his hands and shaking his head as the misfires started to pile up on Sunday night.

Boston’s defense certainly deserves some credit for Thompson’s struggles in the series so far. They weren’t the best defensive team in the league during the regular season for no reason, after all, and they did a commendable job of limiting its appearance. However, if you go back and look at Thompson’s misses in Game 2, you’ll see plenty of shots that are achievable – especially achievable for Thompson. Like this one:

And this one:

These are shots we’ve seen Thompson knock down countless times in his career. He is clearly capable of it. While it might be a bit too simplistic to say that he just needs to do a better job of converting his attempts, there’s at least some truth to that. After all, the NBA isn’t called a “do-or-miss league” for nothing.

When Thompson makes shots, the Warriors are extremely difficult to knock down. When he’s not, well, they’re still not easy to defeat, but they do become more vulnerable. In addition to Thompson simply settling in and finding a rhythm, it’s also obviously up to Coach Kerr to continue to put him in position to succeed. In game three, he might even consider running a few more straight sets for Thompson to try and get him going.

It’s especially important for Thompson to make shots to maximize his value for the Warriors at this point because he’s yet to return to the form of the dominant defender he once was. Maybe he will again, but he’s a step slower than he was in that regard now, and this step takes him from a lockdown perimeter defender to just over the average. The Warriors even opted to have him guard Boston greats like Al Horford on certain possessions, instead of deploying him on perimeter threats like Jaylen Brown. In the past, if Thompson didn’t make his shots, he could catch up defensively, but that’s not the case now.

Again, this isn’t meant to hit Thompson, but the facts can’t be ignored. He just has to be better than he was in Games 1 and 2. He would recognize that himself. Playing alongside the best shooter in the game in Curry, the opportunities will always be there for Thompson, and it’s up to him to capitalize. His ability to do so could go a long way in determining which team ultimately wins the Larry O’Brien Trophy this season.

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