SAN FRANCISCO — In most cases, Klay Thompson likely would have pulled up from deep. Or at least he would have driven to the basket.
With a defender eager to stop Thompson, however, he made the right basketball play by finding an open teammate. Thompson did not make the fundamentally sound play, though. He threw a behind-the-back pass to Andrew Wiggins for an open layup.
In the Golden State Warriors’ 130-92 win against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday at Chase Center, Thompson showed promise by playing what coach Steve Kerr described as “just playing a Klay Thompson game.” Thompson scored 15 points while shooting efficiently from the field (6-of-12) and from 3-point range (3-of-5) to help the Warriors (35-13) secure their third consecutive win.
Thompson did so while logging a season-high 26 minutes only two days after missing Sunday’s game against Utah because of experiencing what he called “a little soreness” in his left knee during pregame walk-throughs.
Thompson showed the most surprising development, however, with his passing. He recorded a season-high six assists, including three behind-the-back passes. Since when has Thompson played like Magic Johnson?
“Growing up, it’s funny. Coaches try to tell you to fundamentally throw not one-handed passes, but two-handed chest passes,” Thompson said. “But if you want to be a complete basketball player, you got to be able to make that behind-the-back play.”
Thompson still threw two-handed chest passes to set up open 3-pointers for Damion Lee and Wiggins. But Thompson did not want to limit himself. So, Thompson showed off his creativity. When he caught a pass behind the perimeter, Thompson attacked the basket, stopped in the paint and darted a behind-the-back pass to rookie forward Jonathan Kuminga for an open dunk. On another play,
Thompson threw a behind-the-back pass to Kuminga for an open 3-pointer. After all of those plays, Thompson formed circles with both hands and placed them in front of his eyes as if to suggest he had worn goggles.
“Me growing up watching Klay play basketball, I never had really seen him pass the ball the way he did today,” the 19-year-old Kuminga said. “It’s surprising having him [pass] on the floor.”
It shouldn’t be too surprising, though.
Thompson has recorded a career-high eight assists in four other regular-season games during his career and has 25 other games of six or more assists. And Thompson has become one of the NBA’s best two-way players because of his superior shooting, defensive consistency and priorities toward team ball.
Thompson’s facilitating coincided with the Warriors also featuring Kuminga (22 points), Stephen Curry (18), Jordan Poole (17), Wiggins (14), Otto Porter Jr. (12) and Nemanja Bjelica (10) cracking double figures.
“This was Klay’s best game in terms of his patience and allowing things to happen,” Kerr said. “He wasn’t forcing it at all.”
Thompson fulfilled that job description while adjusting to a new rotation that both Thompson and Kerr believe will benefit him. With Thompson knocking off rust through six games after nursing season-ending injuries to his left knee (2019-20) and his right Achilles tendon (2020-21), Thompson said he hyperextended his left knee five days ago against Indiana. Thompson then missed Sunday’s game against Utah after experiencing “just a little soreness” during pregame warmups.
Nonetheless, the Warriors’ medical staff advised Kerr to increase Thompson’s workload to a season-high 26 minutes while playing him in shorter spurts with fewer breaks. As Kerr said, “We’re just trying to avoid having him not play for 45 minutes of actual time.”
“I felt like I got my legs under me,” Thompson said. “I thought I had a great base every time I shot the base. I was told to expect some rust. But I still want to be great having the layoff I did. I’m hoping to build off of this. I really pride myself on being as efficient as possible.”
No wonder Thompson looked refreshed while wearing a sailor’s hat after the game. That image captures Thompson’s recent devotion to enjoying the Bay Area outdoors with his boat. But internally, Thompson admittedly has not felt as calm. Hard to do so when he spent 941 days without playing in an NBA game.
“I’m such a competitor that sometimes I want to get it back all in one night, especially when you’re off for a couple of years,” Thompson said. “But I’m at my best when I’m playing within the flow of the offense. I’m letting the game come to me. I thought I had a very good game tonight.”
Thompson botched a layup. He then rectified it by making two consecutive 3-pointers after moving sharply off the ball. Later on, Thompson performed a reverse layup with much more ease than on his previous mistake.
“I hate missing layups, especially wide open. But I’m human,” Thompson said. “I thought I did a good job of not letting it affect the next play and being a continuous player and letting it fly and doing it in a good rhythm, I wasn’t forcing my shot tonight. I was doing it within the offense. I’ll learn from this game, especially taking the years I had off.”
Because of that time off, Thompson likened his return to his rookie season when he spent that time learning the team’s offense and his most comfortable shooting locations. It did not seem like Thompson needed to study much, though.
That included perfecting his passing skills, which Thompson insisted partly stemmed from playing the quarterback and point guard positions on his respective youth football and basketball teams.
“Vision was always in my repertoire,” Thompson said. “But I think I’m playing at my best when I play off the ball. I’m catching, I’m shooting and I’m cutting. I just thought tonight I did a good job of making the right play and not forcing anything.”
Even when the play involved a behind-the-back pass.
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NBA Digital Sr. Analyst Mark Medina will be answering questions each week in his NBA Mailbag.