Klay Thompson

Klay's frustrations evident as shooting struggles persist vs. Mavs

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SAN FRANCISCO – With the Warriors down 10 in the fourth quarter Saturday night, Klay Thompson was subbed out. Not unusual. With 8:28 remaining, he’d probably return for the final minutes, particularly if the Warriors made a late surge.

They did. A steal and 3-pointer by Chris Paul put them within five of the Dallas Mavericks with 2:47 left.

Here’s what’s unusual: Thompson never returned. He watched the final eight-plus minutes of a 132-122 loss from the bench. His frustration was visible, even as Golden State cut the deficit in half.

Thompson played 26 minutes, scoring a season-low three points. He was 1-of-11 from the field, including 1-of-6 from deep, with two rebounds and one assist. He committed only one turnover, but it triggered a 13-0 Dallas run that hiked its lead from three to 16 in less than three minutes during the second quarter.

The Warriors never again got within three.

As Klay sat on the bench, it was evident he was beyond unhappy with a performance that ranks as one of the worst of his career. Displeasure showed on his face and through his body language. He seemed distraught, lost in thought. The scene was a tough watch, considering he has been a rock for most of a career that began in 2011.

Such optics, especially from one of the team’s veteran leaders, are disappointing. It was a bad look in what was another low moment, perhaps the lowest, in a season of too many lows and too few highs for someone with Hall of Fame credentials.

Thompson found his shot, always a profound spirit-lifter, earlier this month. And now he is again wondering where it went. After averaging 22.9 points on 50.4/45.8 percent splits over the eight games before Christmas – as the Warriors went 5-3 – he is down to 8.3 points on 23.5/27.3 percent splits over the last three games, each of which ended in defeat.

Thompson is a ferocious competitor who despises submitting a showing that he believes, with good reason, is beneath him. If he’s suffering, so is the team, and that combination is a lot to bear.

The weight of the team’s anguish is felt throughout the roster and among the coaching staff. When Stephen Curry, Thompson’s longtime backcourt mate, was asked about the team’s latest round of strife, there was a dash of torment in his voice.

“When you’re not playing well, and it’s a human nature default, you start to look at it like, ‘I need to play better. I need to shoot the ball better,’” he said. “I know everybody (on the Warriors) could probably speak to something that they can do better to help us win. That’s the situation we’re in.”

“We,” is the operative word, though Klay seemed caught in the grip of his individual performance.

Only Curry’s Golden State tenure is longer than that of Thompson. And while Steph’s frustration rarely bobs to the surface, Klay’s maddening moments sometimes do. Like Saturday night.

It's understandable. A lot of clouds are circling Thompson. It’s unfair to speculate on specifics, but his circumstances are well-known. It’s a contract year, as his representatives and the Warriors failed to reach an agreement on the desired extension last summer. Once the team’s Iron Man, his physique has endured two major surgeries, one on each leg. He turns 34 in six weeks.

Tough times always seem intensified for anyone who has experienced the best of times, as Thompson has. Five All-Star Game appearances. Four championship rings. Individual records, one of which – the 37-point quarter, on 13-of-13 shooting, in January 2015 – feels unbreakable.

From a performance standpoint, this is the most challenging time of Klay’s career. He began the season hoping to play well enough to earn a sixth appearance in the All-Star Game. He started poorly before gaining a burst of momentum, and now has fallen off again.

“The difficult thing in the NBA, and it’s one of the things I think about all the time as a coach, is that every guy in that locker room has a unique set of circumstances,” coach Steve Kerr said. “And every one of them is under tremendous pressure to perform. If you’re Steph Curry, you’re under pressure to remain one of the great players in the world. If you’re Usman Garuba, you’re trying to make it in this league as a two-way guy and elevate yourself and your career. I could go down the list.

“Every single guy has a story.”

Klay’s story this season is following a rugged trajectory. He has had enough flashback moments to feed his faith, but he wants more. Instances of failure happen to everyone, as he knows.

He also knows of revival. So careful betting against him recovering and reminding everyone – including himself – that he’s a better player and teammate than he was Saturday night.

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