Klay’s Greatest Game and Kevin Durant
One year and a day ago was Klay Thompson’s Western Conference Finals Game 6; it was a leap forward in the development of modern Klaytheism (as Haley O'Shaughnessy puts it).
In my mind this is Thompson’s greatest game. Even though “37” and “60” were more special events, they didn’t come under the ultimate pressure of win or go home.
If the Golden State Warriors had lost Game 7 to OKC, then Game 6 would have been just a great game. Instead, it became, without exaggeration, a turning point for the entire league.
It’s amazing how mathematically everything broke for the Warriors as far as acquiring Kevin Durant. The Warriors needed to go further than OKC (or else KD would be strongly tempted to stay in a superior situation) but still lose the Finals in as humiliating a fashion as possible (or else KD would have been way too obviously ring-chasing by joining a twice-defending champion and Joe Lightyears and the Hamptons 5 might have preferred to keep the team together for a three-peat).
And here are the precise breaks they got:
- If Stephen Curry stays healthy, then in all likelihood the Warriors win the ring and don’t get Durant. Instead Curry got hurt, but just the right amount of hurt. If Curry were out completely, then they likely lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder and maybe even to the Portland Trail Blazers. Instead Curry comes back to take out Portland and help against the Thunder.
- Oklahoma City has Golden state on the verge of defeat, but GSW gets a desperation home win in Game 5, the Klay Game in Game 6 and great Curry for the end of Game 6 and all of Game 7. That was pretty much the only excellent playoff play from Curry, along with the end of Portland Game 4.
- Golden State is strong enough to get up 3-1 on Cleveland to be on the verge of winning and then proceeds to blow it via Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut‘s injury, Andre Iguodala‘s injury and Festus Ezeli‘s and Harrison Barnes‘ catastrophic performances.
- The Finals loss brings the humiliation required to have a chance at Durant, but also, the EXACT players (Bogut, Ezeli and Barnes) that would have to go to accommodate Durant are the ones who had a horrible Finals. If Barnes hits his open looks and emerges as a leading scorer, then the Warriors would have been very tempted to max him as the clutch star of the future.
So, things were meant to take this painful but fascinating road. And all these twists are only possible if Klay Thompson goes nuts in Game 6.
And to remember the context, not only was it on the road in Oklahoma City, but also the Thunder had completely vaporized the Warriors in the previous two games in Oklahoma City — by 28 and 24 — and the games weren’t even that close.
I wrote in the Game 5 piece, Explain One Play: Stephen Curry is not going home yet, about Curry’s limitations from the injury and ended with this:
Well, I don't have to tell you that it does not look good... Basically, if the W's can win in OKC, it would be the most impressive win of the year.
So, there is a better than even chance that this will be the last Explain One Play of the year. And what a year this has been. Even though it would be a grave disappointment for a 73-win team to not win a title, by Warriors standards, this is still certainly the second or third greatest season in West Coast Dubs history.
Think back to when Curry went down with the knee injury. I thought right then that the title hopes were smashed. I would have gladly taken the Warriors making the WCF with a puncher's chance at getting a Game 7 in Oracle.
And think even further back. Imagine reading that Monta Ellis fell off a moped. Could you have ever imagined that the Warriors would have such an incredible year? Or that they would have such admirable high character guys ripping off the greatest regular season in history? Yes, if you're a Laker or Celtic fan, you can consider anything short of a title as a failure. Or if you're a current Warrior! But if you're a Warrior fan from the bad old days, you can't afford to miss out on appreciating what we've been able to enjoy these last two years.
Okay, I'm not ready for the ride to end yet. Bring on Game 6. LGW!
So the whole game, the Thunder led by 6 to 12 points, and given the previous games, the crowd and the closeout situation, you knew if they got the lead to 15, the blowout would start. And every time they threatened to push the lead out, Thompson hit a three.
I won’t give an overview of the game, since you can get that at other sources:
- The Klay Game, by Haley O'Shaughnessy
- Klay Thompson’s immortal Game 6 vs. OKC was one year ago, and it changed everything, by Tim Kawakami
And here are the heart-stopping last five minutes:
Overshadowed by Klay’s explosion was Stephen Curry’s taking over the last five minutes.
It’s interesting looking back at the Explain One Play from that game: Explain One Play: Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry splash to Game 7, along with the comments.
I can't believe the Warriors won that game.
And weirdly enough, it focuses on the defense in the last minutes. You should go look at it... it’s good stuff.
It’s funny to see how the flaws I pointed out after Game 6 ended up biting the Warriors in the Finals.
Kerr promised he'd play the bench because that's who the W's were. And so the bench played in the first couple of minutes of the 2nd, and so the W's were a team that hemorrhaged points while the Thunder attacked Marreese Speights and the general lack of rim protection. I think Kerr learned his lesson about the bench and road games. He might run more bench out in home Game 7 if the W's get a little cushion.
In general, the Thunder are exposing the Warriors lack of quality two-way big men. Bogut is an outstanding defender, but he can barely shoot and can be hack-a-Boguted. Festus Ezeli is more mobile, but just consistently makes mental mistakes, plus also can be hack-a-Ezelied. Mo Speights can't defend the rim and his jump shot comes and goes. James McAdoo is an unfinished version of an unfinished Ezeli. Luckily, the Small Ball Death Squad finished well today.
Kerr’s use of Festus Ezeli and Anderson Varejao in Finals Game 7 are still the stuff of nightmares. The 2017 Warriors are vulnerable as expected at the center position, but stronger than in 2016, where Bogut’s injury hit right where they were weakest.
One shouldn’t forget that OKC didn’t give up after the shock of Game 6. OKC came out strong and led for most of the game, up 13 in the second quarter, and up eight halfway through the third. Sturdy, clutch play got the Warriors through their toughest test.
Re-watching the highlights, it’s striking how limited Curry was. His only semi-reliable off-the-dribble shot was a simple one dribble crossover to the right. 2017 Curry is two gears beyond injured 2016 Curry.
The Thunder’s Game 7’s writeup was Explain One Play: Warriors bomb OKC bigs with 17 threes and there is some delightful discussion in the comments about whether to get Durant (not a slam dunk) and if so what centers would be available (no one predicted any of the actual three-headed beast).
As we approach the Finals again, let us remember to appreciate that the Dubs are part of something so special and anticipated. Win or lose, this is historic basketball against one of the greatest players of all time and a stacked roster. Here is the ending of my Game 7 piece, and it still seems appropriate today:
Final note. KD and RWB said they weren't laughing at Curry, they were laughing at the idea of being asked to praise an opponent. I've always been offended by the consistent disdain that Westbrook shows for his opponents. Doesn’t he know that having great opponents raises the quality and value of your struggles and victories? If you're playing a bunch of losers, then what does it mean when you lose to them?
When you respect your opponent with appropriate fear, you have to elevate your own play and you both become part of something bigger and honorable. I personally hope Russ keeps on doing Russ and that it holds him and his team back from growing. Otherwise OKC may finally grow up, put it all together and take over the league.
Okay, time to rest the nervous system. We go through more emotional upheaval on Thursday! What a world!