Klay Thompson made his much-anticipated return to the hardwood earlier this season following a two-year injury lay-off and he has helped lift the Golden State Warriors back into the NBA Finals.
He tore his ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals that ended with the Toronto Raptors winning their first ever title and was sidelined up until January of this year. Following his injury, the Warriors subsequently dropped out of contention for the next two seasons. They missed the playoffs in 2020 and were eliminated in the play-in game last year which was a steep fall from their run of five consecutive NBA Finals appearances dating back to 2015.
Thompson’s absence was a deathknell and proof that regardless of how great Stephen Curry and Draymond Green continue to be, they still need their running mate in tow to contend for a title.
The importance of Thompson was on full display during their series clinching 120-110 victory in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals over the Dallas Mavericks. He scored 19 points in the first half as Golden State built a 17-point halftime lead and finished the contest with 32 points on 12-of-25 shooting, eight three-pointers, two rebounds, three assists, and a steal. This marked his third 30-point outing this postseason and it was an impressive bounce back performance from his quiet 12-point outing in Game 4.
Thompson’s scintillating performance was especially crucial since it allowed the Warriors to win amidst Stephen Curry’s rough shooting night. The 34-year-old Curry was limited to 15 points on five-of-17 shooting, though he made up for it with an all-around line of nine assists, three rebounds, two steals, and a block. This has always been the strength of the “Splash Brothers” since the threat of their shooting is more than enough to keep their foes on their toes and opposing defenses honest.
Despite his poor showing in the clincher, Curry was named the first ever Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP for his stellar overall performance in this round. Curiously, he has never won an NBA Finals MVP award although he has a prime opportunity to finally pick one up this year given that he is the undisputed first option on this team.
This iteration of Golden State bares a striking resemblance and has many peculiar similarities to the last contending Los Angeles Lakers group that the namesake of Curry’s latest individual award played on.
Back in the ‘90-’91 season, Johnson appeared in his ninth and last NBA Finals with the Lakers where they fell to the then up-and-coming Chicago Bulls. Johnson was a couple of months away from his 32nd birthday at that point, but in those days that was already considered “old” in the NBA given the state of medical technology and nutrition back then.
Johnson managed to still lead a Laker team out of the Western Conference that featured a mix of his old “Show Time” era running mates James Worthy, Byron Scott, and AC Green along with some new faces in Vlade Divac and Sam Perkins. That 1991 season was an unfulfilled redemption arc of sorts as their run that saw them win three titles in four years abruptly ended with a loss in the 1989 NBA Finals–akin to what happened to these Warriors back in 2019.
Johnson ultimately retired a few months later due to his HIV diagnosis and that turned out to be the last stand for his career.
Golden State will look to avoid the same fate as those 1991 Lakers, regardless of all the parallels, and make good on this chance to win another NBA title together. Curry remains one of the best players in the league and Thompson has begun to look like his former self more frequently these days.
Meanwhile, Green is still the most disruptive defensive force in the league and a savvy playmaker, though his reluctance to shoot is one of the few glaring weak points of this team. The rise of Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole has also been an underrated source of strength for them during this playoff run and they will have to continue playing at their current levels to give them a shot at winning the championship against the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat.
Three years have passed since these Warriors have appeared in the NBA Finals and while some of the characters may have changed, the major ones have remained the same. This team is one that is not satisfied by Western Conference titles and they are expected to come out with all guns ablazing in their quest for a fourth title together.
Although there were many doubts throughout the season and even during these playoffs, it can now be said with utmost certainty that the Splash Brothers are finally back.