OAKLAND, Calif. – The Golden State Warriors won’t worry about how many shots Klay Thompson misses as long as he keep preventing his opponent from making them on the other end of the floor.
Golden State’s other Splash Brother has made far more brick sounds than swishes so far this postseason but it’s work on the defensive end that has stood out most and been a major factor in the Warriors leading Cleveland 1-0 in the NBA Finals after three straight series sweeps to open the postseason.
“The most important thing is the way he’s defending,” teammate Draymond Green said. “We have enough guys who can score on this team that if one guy can’t get it going, we can go other places. Then our ball movement and our flow allows everyone else to get baskets as well. We’re not just going to say, `Oh, man, we really need to get Klay going.“’
With the addition this season of another potent scorer alongside Stephen Curry in Kevin Durant has made Thompson’s offensive production a little less important than it has been in past years.
But his defense is still as crucial as he is the rare player equally adept at controlling ball-handling point guards, chasing shooters around screens and matching up with bigger players in the post.
“We’ve always known he’s been really good on the ball,” teammate Andre Iguodala said. “He’s grown and stepped up and been a better player off the ball, not turning his back on the ball. He’s turned his weaknesses into strengths defensively, which weren’t many. … I’ve seen him grow in front of my eyes to be more than just a shooter and become a great all-around player.”
Thompson’s defensive prowess was evident in Golden State’s 113-91 victory in Game 1 on Thursday night when Cavaliers players shot 1 for 12 when Thompson was the primary defender, according to ESPN. The only make came when Kyrie Irving hit an off-balance 3-pointer while getting fouled as Thompson contested 10 of those 12 shots.
Thompson spent the night matched up at various times against LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith and thrived in all of those situations.
“I’m just trying to play possession by possession,” Thompson said. “But it’s something I did take notice after the game. I was happy with my performance on that side of the ball, being locked in defensively. It didn’t matter who I was guarding, I was trying to make it tough on them just to get a good look.”
The other end of the court has been more of a challenge this postseason for Thompson, who has posted two of the top seven 3-point seasons in NBA history the past two seasons and is a 42 percent shooter for his career from long range.
But Thompson is shooting just 36.6 percent from the floor in the playoffs after a 3-for-16 performance in Game 1 against the Cavaliers. Among players who have taken at least 100 shots this postseason, only Boston’s Marcus Smart and Utah’s Rodney Hood have been worse.
“That’s not a big deal at all,” Thompson said. “If I score six points a game and it gets us four wins and an NBA championship, I can do that every year.”
Thompson still puts fear in opponents, who still believe he could break out of this slump any time.
“He’s one of the best shooters we have ever seen,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “For him to be in a slump is crazy. … I don’t believe that. A guy like that is never slumping.”
The poor shooting doesn’t mean Thompson hasn’t been effective as evidenced by his plus-178 rating that trails only Curry, Green and James this postseason.
And it doesn’t mean the Warriors will stop feeding him in hopes he will find his stroke soon as evidenced by his 16 shot attempts in Game 1.
“If he’s not making shots, he’s still a respected shooter and nobody’s going to give him open shots if he starts to miss,” Durant said. “So we know the gravity he pulls when he’s out there, and his movement off of the ball is one of the main reasons why we’re a good team. And his defense is the reason why we we’re one of the best defensive teams in the league as well. So when he’s not shooting the ball, that doesn’t take him out of his game, that doesn’t lower his confidence.”
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