Warriors’ Game 6 triumph was one for the ages|No sibling rivalry between Golden State’s Splash Brothers
The only thing more remarkable than Klay Thompson‘s 41-point performance in Game 6 is that an NBA player with that capability is content spending so much time in the shadows.
Even when Thompson cooked up the game of his life, a night he made more 3-pointers (11) than anyone ever had in the playoffs, he handed the chef’s hat to Stephen Curry at the end.
It was Curry who applied the finishing touch to the Golden State Warriors‘ season-saving victory in Oklahoma City, banking in a floater over Serge Ibaka to give the Warriors a five-point lead with 14 seconds remaining. It was Curry who basked in his teammates’ adulation as he returned to the bench; Curry who provided the lasting image when he triumphantly held up seven fingers to signify forcing Monday’s Game 7 back in Oakland.
Thompson celebrates, too. He just doesn’t celebrate Klay Thompson, and that’s just fine with him.
Thompson’s demeanor is better suited to be the hype man than the boxer at the center of the ring. When Curry made his triumphant return to these playoffs after missing four games with a knee injury and swaggeringly proclaimed to the Portland crowd that he was back, Thompson was right behind him, pointing at Curry, turning to the fans and chiming in with, “He’s back, boy!”
A standout aspect of the Splash Brothers is the absence of a sibling rivalry. This is despite the fact that it’s Curry who pops up in all the interviews, endorsements and magazine covers, and it’s Curry keeping Thompson from holding the title of the most prolific 3-point shooter in the league. The only NBA player who ever made more 3s in a season than the 276 Thompson sank this year is Curry, who made 286 last season and an absurd 402 this year. Curry and Thompson have been 1-2 in 3 pointers in each of the past three seasons, and Curry has been the league’s most valuable player the past two.
It’s acceptance speeches for Curry, accepting a lower profile for Thompson.
“Klay doesn’t mind,” Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton said. “I don’t even know how much Klay wants [the attention]. He just loves the game of basketball, loves coming to the gym, getting his work in.”
Walton has seen just about every relationship dynamic in the league, beginning with the nadir of the Kobe-Shaq feud during his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2003-04. He has never witnessed a togetherness like this Warriors team has shown.
“It’s very rare,” Walton said. “I don’t think it exists in most places in the NBA.”
Those who know the Thompson family say Klay’s demeanor is more like his mother, Julie, than his garrulous father, Mychal. Klay’s playing style bears no resemblance to Mychal, a 6-foot-10 center who played 13 years in the NBA. But one trait Klay inherited from his dad was an ability to subjugate his ego. Mychal was a former No. 1 overall pick by the Portland Trail Blazers who came off the bench for the majority of the four-and-a-half seasons he spent with the Lakers at the end of his career. The Lakers went to the NBA Finals four times while he was there, producing two championships.
“My Lakers teams, Magic [Johnson] was the face of the franchise,” Mychal said. “The rest of us benefited from winning. There was no jealousy.”
When Curry went off on his 15-point scoring spree in the middle of the third quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, Thompson was essentially unguarded the entire time. Not once did Thompson call for the ball, even when he was open by the hoop while Curry launched a 3. (When it went in, Thompson uncorked an over-the-top fist pump).
“We don’t put our egos in the way,” Thompson said when I asked him about the Splash Brothers’ relationship earlier this season. “I think we’re pretty selfless people. We don’t really care about the individuality of the game. That will come with all the accolades.
“Winning takes such a precedent. When we win, everyone gets all the love.”
Curry is just as quick to defer to Thompson when he has the hot hand. And the first thing Curry did when the critiques of his defense were relayed to him was say how fortunate he is to play next to a superior defender in Thompson.
Thompson has had his highlights this season, even as Curry entered the sporting stratosphere. Thompson’s contract extension kicked in this season, making him the Warriors’ highest-paid player at $15.5 million. (Curry was the first teammate to text him congratulations when he signed it).
Thompson won the 3-point shootout at All-Star Weekend in Toronto, although he knows Curry will be extra motivated to reclaim it next year, when the event will be held in Curry’s hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.
And when Curry missed all or part of seven playoff games against Houston and Portland with the knee and ankle injuries, Thompson scored 30-plus points three times. His run of eight consecutive games with at least 20 points matched a Warriors’ playoff record set by Tim Hardaway. At the other end, Thompson drew the assignment of guarding James Harden and Damian Lillard and now heading into Game 7 of the West finals, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
To Mychal Thompson, that stretch without Curry showed him a new side of his son.
“How much he’s matured as a man,” Mychal said. “On and off the court. For him to accept that challenge, knowing he had to step up. He really lived up to the challenge and embraced it.”
Thompson showed he’s more than just a sidekick, which makes you appreciate it even more when he stands to the side and lets Curry do his thing. Thompson has the aspirations and abilities to be an all-timer, without the need to prove it all of the time.
“He wants to be great,” Mychal Thompson said. “He wants to be a Hall of Famer and multiple-time champion. That’s all the motivation you need.”
The Thunder and Warriors will go to Game 7 after Golden State rallied back from a 3-1 series deficit. Who is favored to move on and face the Cavaliers in the finals?
Here are the series betting prices for the Western Conference finals as of Sunday evening, courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, along with the previous odds from both conference finals.
Oklahoma City Thunder (3-3) tied with Golden State Warriors
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