Why stage is set for Klay Thompson to have huge NBA Finals for Warriors


TORONTO – While most eyes turn toward Steph Curry, with some sneaking a peek at a rusty DeMarcus Cousins, don’t be surprised if another Warriors All-Star gets comfortable in the background Thursday night and finds his own personal zone.

Klay Thompson is due. Overdue. And the Warriors definitely need him to deliver in the NBA Finals that begin with Game 1 at Scotiabank Arena.

No shooter in the NBA is better when in that zone, and Thompson simply hasn’t been there very much. Only once in 16 postseason games has he delivered the kind of nuclear blast that makes him such a special shooter. He poured in 27 points on 71.4-percent shooting in the first half of Game 4 of the first round against the Clippers.

In the 12 games since, the 6-foot-7 guard has averaged 18.5 points, shooting 37.5 percent from deep and 41.1 percent overall.

In the five games since Kevin Durant was sidelined with a calf injury, Thompson is at 21.5 points on 40.2-percent shooting, including 34.4 percent beyond the arc. This is significant because Thompson and Durant anchor the unit that opens the second and fourth quarters. Durant’s absence has resulted in much less scoring from that unit, with Thompson feeling greater urgency to score.

That urgency too often results in rushed shots, sometimes against a defense designed to contain him. Thompson’s shooting percentage drops, his production declines and he shows signs of frustration.

Well, help may be on the way, beginning with Game 1. Not Durant; he’ll miss at least the first two games. But the activation of Cousins, after a six-week absence due to a torn quadriceps muscle, should make Thompson’s task considerably easier.

Though Warriors coach Steve Kerr has been coy about whether Cousins will start or come off the bench, the likelihood is that the 6-11 center often will be paired with Thompson when Draymond Green and Curry are taking a breather.

Thompson provided a glimpse into his mindset during Media Day on Wednesday. Asked how he would respond to songs on his playlist by Raptors superfan Drake, Thompson neither flinched nor giggled.

“He's extremely talented,” he said. “But I will definitely skip the song if I don't like it. And if it's one of his soft R & B songs, I'm going to skip it because I'm in kill mode right now, you know? I'm trying to get these four games.”

Thompson’s “kill mode” tends to open the door to his zone. It’s the mentality that led to a 37-point quarter four years ago. The draining of an NBA-record 14 3-pointers last October. The scoring of 60 points in less than 30 minutes last December. Opening a game by making his first 10 triples in January. Klay’s zone is why he is the only player in the shot-clock era (1954-55) with multiple games of 40 or more points in fewer than 30 minutes.

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Klay’s zone also can surface in the postseason. With the Warriors trailing 3-2 going into Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals at Oklahoma City, Thompson rained 41 points, including 11 3-pointers, carrying them to a victory that evened the series.

To amplify: Thompson scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, single-handedly turning an eight-point deficit into a seven-point win.

Who in the NBA can forget that? Certainly not Serge Ibaka, then with the Thunder but now a member of the Raptors.

“Since I've been playing in the NBA, 10 years now . . . I've never seen that before,” Ibaka told reporters in Toronto on Monday. “You cannot get hot and have it last for six minutes and shoot all over the place. I've never seen something like that."

That was three years and two days ago. That was Thompson in kill mode. In his zone. He’s due to go there again, and his chances are better now than a few days ago.

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