Klay realizes long-awaited dream with Warriors' Finals return


SAN FRANCISCO – Jacking up seven shots, five from distance, in first nine minutes was a clue of what was to come. After searching in vain for his 3-ball through four games of the Western Conference finals, Klay Thompson was willing to dig them out of his shoes if that’s what it would take to win Game 5.

And there they were Thursday night, 3-pointers coming off Klay’s eager fingers, one after another, eight in all, until he and the Warriors had vanquished the stubborn Mavericks 120-110 to advance to the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight years.

There would be no need for famed “Game 6 Klay,” as there was no question Thompson was smelling The Finals hours before the ball went up for tipoff.

Klay’s long, sweaty, perilous journey from physical purgatory is now one series victory away from his desired destination atop the NBA mountain.

“Just such a surreal feeling,” Thompson said. “It's hard to put into words really. This time last year, I was just starting to jog again and get up and down the court. Now to be feeling like myself, feeling explosive, feeling sure in my movements, I'm just grateful.”

Thompson recalled what it took to recover from surgery July 2019, three weeks after tearing his left ACL in The Finals against Toronto. He missed the 2019-20 season. Then, while training for the 2020-21 season, he sustained a ruptured right Achilles’ tendon. A second straight season on the sidelines.

Imagine, if you will, to recover from a devastating injury to one leg only to incur a devastating injury to the other leg. Klay saw more of Rick Celebrini, the team’s vice president of health and performance, than he ever wanted to. He heard the pep talks from teammates and coaches trying to guide him through the dark days.

“He had a hard two years,” Andrew Wiggins said. “But he stayed positive, stayed with it. Now he's shining on the brightest stage. So, I'm happy for him.”

Thompson was the team’s resident “iron man” before disaster struck, so pardon him for being misty-eyed as he and his teammates celebrated on the court at Chase Center.

“All those emotions kind of rushed through me,” he said. “And I thought about our training staff . . . I thought about those days me and Rick were together in Santa Cruz and I was in a terrible mood. We were together in the summertime. All those long days.

“They would tell me it would pay off. It was hard to see that at the time. Now to actually be here, I can feel it paying off.”

Getting this far means a lot to Stephen Curry, who was a unanimous selection to win the inaugural Magic Johnson Award as Western Conference Playoffs MVP. It means a lot to Draymond Green, the emotional leader of the team. It’s special for Kevon Looney, who in recent weeks has played the most impressive basketball of his career.

But nobody on the roster can possibly feel this achievement as deeply as Thompson, who missed two full seasons and the first half of the 2021-22 season.

“I'm happy for everybody,” coach Steve Kerr said. “I could go down the list. Each player has a unique individual background and story. I'm happy for all of them.

“It's hard not to be most excited for Klay, given what he's been through. The two-year absence, the fight that he's been through to get back to this point. Just incredible accomplishment for him. For him to be a part of it, he's so happy again. It's wonderful to see.”

Thompson averaged 15.3 points per game through the first four against the Mavericks, shooting a solid 47.1 percent overall but a lowly 29.2 percent beyond the arc. The other elements of his offensive game were in tune, but shooting is his offensive identity. He lives to launch.

And on this night, with Curry shooting poorly and playing the role of distributor, the Warriors needed Thompson to score. He finished with a game-high 32 points, on 12-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-16 from deep. He made one more 3-ball in Game 5 than he did in Games 1-4 combined.

Though five teammates scored in double figures, only Klay, for the first time in the series, cracked the 20-point barrier.

“That's a very resilient guy,” Green said. “He comes out tonight aggressive, 32 points. Klay is a dog. I've said it over and over again. He's going to fight. He's going to battle no matter what. The most important thing to him is always to win it.”

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That’s what this is about for Klay. Winning. He was playing marvelously at both ends in the 2019 postseason. Game 6 Klay had scored 30 points in 32 minutes against the Raptors, and the Warriors had a five-point lead when he went down. They were outscored by nine over the final 14 minutes.

All Klay could do is watch from the locker room as the Raptors celebrated at Oracle Arena.

So, yes, it feels good to be back in The Finals.

“I dreamt about this,” he said. “Like every day.”

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