Then the injuries struck, the games clearly no longer mattered and most of March has been miserable, Quinnsanity notwithstanding.
Over the last week or so, we’ve seen the core of All-Stars slowly come back — we already know we won’t see Stephen Curry again until the NBA playoffs, but three of four are now back with Klay Thompson making his return over the weekend. And, the way Thompson tells it, he’s going to be back and finding his rhythm for the rest of the regular season.
Klay Thompson doesn't want to rest during the season's final five games: "I've missed enough games this year. I just want to keep a good rhythm. I do that by playing." pic.twitter.com/yrfxvuVR9T— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 2, 2018
Perhaps most importantly, it will give Thompson a chance to find a rhythm with his new backcourt mate, Quinn Cook.
Thompson’s game enhances Cook’s
The Quinn Cook we’ve come to know and love over the past month really didn’t emerge until Thompson went out with his thumb injury. So these last two games are the first time the two have played together with Cook really having come into his own — arbitrary as it might be, Cook hadn’t hit double-figure scoring in a Warriors uniform prior to Thompson going down.
Dieter Kurtenbach of the Bay Area News Group wrote about how Thompson’s return to action enhanced Cook’s game.
Cook’s impact on the Warriors’ offense has been particularly impressive since the return of Klay Thompson to the Warriors lineup.With Thompson back in the fold, the Warriors have looked… well… normal — the ball is whipping around, 3-pointers are being fired, and the Warriors are breaking down their opponents with a ruthless precision...By having another elite shooter on the court with Kevin Durant, the Warriors no longer need Cook to create offense on his own. He can — and he does — but with Thompson on the floor, the Warriors can move Cook off the ball, like they do so often with Curry, and let Durant or Draymond Green run “point”.
Yet while Thompson’s rep is as someone who stands around the arc waiting to score without dribbling, last night’s game was one of those instances when Thompson showed us a little bit of his growth by getting to the rim, picking his spots for jumpers inside the arc, and playing with as much confidence and poise as we’ve seen from him in his career.
The mid-range game has been maligned in recent years with the 3-point explosion we’ve seen across the league, but Thompson’s game last night is probably a fairly good example of how having multiple threats that can shoot the long ball but also make defenses pay for over-committing can make an offense a bit more flexible and dynamic.
Additionally, perhaps I’m just enjoying Thompson’s evolution as a player here — there was a point in his career, albeit much earlier, when there was legitimate room to question whether he could ever make the kind of moves we saw last night.
Last night’s game won’t be Thompson’s most memorable game, but it’s one dynamic (among many) that the team has been missing throughout March. And with everyone sharing the ball and picking and choosing their spots to shoot, you get the type of overall efficiency we saw from last night’s starters.
Warriors beat the Suns, four starters efficiently in double-figures— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 2, 2018
-KD: 29-11-8 on 12/19 FG
-Draymond: 13-6-12 on 5/8 FG
-Klay: 23 pts on 10/19 FG
-Cook: 19 pts on 7/11 FG
If the three All-Stars can continue to play like that with Cook more of a complementary piece than the centerpiece that he has looked like for us through much of March, there should be no problem advancing through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Controlled yet ruthless precision
As Warriors coach Steve Kerr said earlier this season, we might be seeing the emergence of peak Klay Thompson -- a fully actualized, multi-dimensional scoring threat for whom the game has slowed down, allowing him to pick apart defenses at will. No less an offensive wizard than Steph Curry described it well in an article by Mark Medina of the Bay Area News Group back in November:
“He’s under control,” Curry said. “That’s the biggest thing. Defenders are running him off the 3-point line and he’s giving them pump fakes when he knows it’s time to pull that out within himself and making timely shots. He’s playing amazing right now. He’s obviously a catalyst for us.”
Thompson’s game last night was definitely one of those times when that control was on full display. And as Duby Dub Dubs wrote earlier this season, we probably haven’t talked enough about just how good a season Thompson has been having — arguably a career year that has been overshadowed by this roller coaster of emotions.
To return to the Finals, the Warriors are going to need more of this controlled yet ruthless precision that Thompson might embody more than anyone else — keeping the game simple, but keeping the pressure on against every opponent every night. There’s little question that the Warriors can make it to the Western Conference Finals with Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green all at full strength regardless of whether Curry plays. Yet it’s probably fair to say that anxious fans need to see more of this over the last five meaningless games just to restore faith in this team’s ability to repeat as champions — a feat that has already eluded this team once and has flummoxed many of the NBA’s elite in the past.
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