It’s 7:30 on any given game night during the Warriors’ 2015-2016 season and I settle down on the couch to unwind from the day and watch basketball. Hmm...scratch that. It's 7:30 on any given game night during the Warriors' 2015-2016 season and I gingerly sit on the edge of my couch as tip-off nears. I cross my fingers for a fast start while my heart races.
I'm sure I'm not the only fan who has realized that there were so many close games last year. In fact, I counted 22 games where the point differential was five or less. This statistic doesn't count all the other games where there was a close first half and the game wasn't decided until the latter part of the third quarter. It doesn't count all the games where the Warriors actually trailed for a portion of the game, sometimes upwards of 10 to 15 points.
Ironically, it is this heart-thumping attribute of the Warriors that makes them one of the more exciting teams to follow in the NBA. Let's admit to ourselves that it is riveting to watch a team that has the offensive shooting power to be down 20 points and still pull out a win (and that is without Kevin Durant). Let's admit to ourselves that we love how the Warriors use their confidence, basketball I.Q., focus, competitiveness, and sometimes sheer audacity to break down opposing teams in the fourth quarter. They play fast, they play hard, they play creatively, and they play intuitively (which sometimes leads to all of those turnovers, but we won't dwell on that).
Instead, let's reflect on a game I could easily argue was the most suspenseful and most celebratory all season, a game representing the best of what the Warriors can do and ending with Klay Thompson reaching hero status. Yes, everyone, we are going to relive Game 6.
You know which one I'm talking about. It ended with:
First, let's set the stage. On May 22nd and May 24th, the Warriors had lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder by more than 20 points. This meant Games 5-7 were going to be elimination games, one of which would have to be won at Chesapeake Energy Arena, a tough place to play with a loud, active crowd, if the the Warriors were going to advance. Game 6 was the game to be played in Oklahoma and with two recent losses at that arena and one other near heart-stopping win in the regular season, there were probably a lot of anxious Warriors fans out there.
As often happens, the Warriors got off to a slow start; however Klay Thompson scored the first points for the Warriors with an assist from Stephen Curry a few minutes in. That was his first 3-pointer, and that matters. There are commentators that say if Klay Thompson sees the ball go through the hoop early in a game, there is a good chance he will have a great night. Throughout the first half, Thompson was the only consistent shooter, making six field goals, four of which were from downtown. Curry didn't heat up until midway through the second quarter but at least focused on getting defensive rebounds and assists (many of which were to Thompson).
The Warriors didn't even make a field goal during the second quarter until Andre Iguodala made a 2-point shot with eight minutes left. Then there was a short Curry flurry with two 3-pointers and some free throws. Overall, the Thunder had led the Warriors the entire first half and prevented them from finding an offensive rhythm. As the second half came to a close, I bet a lot of Warriors fans were feeling like I was: panicked. I sat on the edge of the couch with my head in my hands as a swirl of questions raced through my mind. Could the Warriors pull this off? Was this going to be the end of the season?
And then this happened.
Nine seconds into the third quarter, Thompson hits another 3-pointer (once again assisted by Curry) and we already know what happens to his confidence once he sees the ball go through the hoop. As the second half pressed on, the Warriors continued to trail the Thunder by a few points (repeat: a few measly points!). I was at this point pacing around my living room, the stress building to where I could no longer even pretend to sit calmly on the couch. This anguish continued until the last couple of minutes of the game. However, all along, there was someone to make us, fans, cheer and stay hopeful: cool, calm, and collected Klay Thompson.
As the fourth quarter proceeded, every couple minutes, Thompson would make a 3-point shot. And as the quarter began to wind down, Thompson's shots kept going in... even when the shot was heavily contested...even when it was a shot Coach Kerr would tell him not to take. It seemed Thompson was willing that basketball through the hoop and was channeling Steph Curry's triumphant words from Game 5: "We’re not going home!"
Did you see that Curry had stolen the ball from Durant in that play? I digress.
Finally, with only a minute or so left, Thompson hit the defining 3-point shot that put the Warriors ahead of the Thunder, 104-101. With another shot from Curry and a couple of free throws from Thompson, the Warriors would seal an epic win, taking down the Thunder with a final score of 108-101. I vividly remember running around my living room, shouting and yelling from thrill and exhilaration. One of my best friends texted me with, "I think that game may have shaved ten years off of my life."
Without a doubt, no other game last season sent me into such a frenzy. Klay Thompson had put on his Star Wars socks and saved the day like a superhero would. The Warriors’ season would live on for another day and everything seemed right in the world. I will always remember Thompson leaving the game, pumping his fists in the air as the owners cheered. It is true that the Warriors are just humans like the rest of us. But some nights they can transcend what we would think is possible, and that is one of the many reasons we love them so much and look forward to October and what a new season will bring us.