The 2022 NBA Finals did not exactly reestablish Klay Thompson as a star player and key piece of the Warriors’ dynasty. Aside from a couple of big three-pointers in the denouement of Game 5, Thompson was pedestrian, by his otherworldly standards, against the Boston Celtics. He finished the series averaging 17 points on 35 percent shooting from both the field and from deep. Even during Game 6, and with the weight of the “Game 6 Klay” history on his back, he shot 5-of-20 and scored only 12 points. In a vacuum, the Warriors closed out the Celtics on Thursday despite Thompson, not because of him.
Vacuums are overrated, though—use a broom!—and so it is time, instead, to celebrate Klay Thompson, the human, four-time champion, and possibly the happiest person in the NBA right now.
Holy cannoli, indeed. Between claiming his third and fourth rings, Thompson suffered two of the harshest injuries a pro athlete can face. He tore his ACL in his left knee during Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, and presumably watched in both physical and emotional pain as the Toronto Raptors closed out the Warriors in Oakland. He underwent surgery to fix that injury, missing the entirety of the 2019-2020 season. He returned to practice in time for the 2020-2021 season, only to injure his other leg, tearing his right Achilles tendon in a pickup game. After almost three calendar years away, he finally made his return in January of this very year, just in time to get into something resembling a groove before the Warriors made their run from the three seed in the West all the way to the title.
There were moments to celebrate on the court in these playoffs for Thompson. He closed out the Memphis Grizzlies—more on them in a second—with a vintage Game 6 Klay performance: 30 points on 8-of-14 from three, alongside three huge blocks. He followed that up by helping to close out the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals, throwing up another eight three-pointers en route to 32 points in the closeout Game 5. He passed LeBron James into second place for threes in both playoff and NBA Finals history. He racked up the accolades that come with being part of one of the greatest dynasties this sport has ever seen. If he didn’t do it at his very best, so what?
Where Thompson was at his very best was during his postgame interviews. While Steph Curry was the most outwardly emotional Warrior after closing out the Celtics, Thompson was certainly the one on Cloud Nine. Or, as he said in the postgame interview above, Cloud 109. Though this wasn’t “win one for the Klay” levels of rallying from his teammates, it’s clear that the title meant just a bit more for how arduous the process was to get Thompson back on the court and contributing, however meekly, to the Warriors’ success. Draymond Green put it best: “You watched what he went through the last two years. It’s no surprise we sucked when he was out.”
There was also some awkward dancing, because of course there was:
Later on Thursday, Thompson brought up the Warriors’ injury travails this season, calling Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Grizzlies a “freakin’ bum” for a “Strength in numbers” tweet he sent out after Memphis beat the shorthanded Warriors back in March:
It’s hard to imagine Thompson angry about anything after winning the title, but that’s about as close as he got. Otherwise, it was all smiles as he lifted the trophy draped in the Bahamian flag, a nod to his heritage and his father, Mychal Thompson. And why shouldn’ t he be happy? His legs were destroyed as recently as last year, and it was just as likely that he’d never be a high-level player again as it was that he would return to his prime form. Neither of those happened, and he settled into what can be described as a useful and essential piece of the Warriors’ machine: They can win when he is bad, but they’re particularly scary when he’s good.
There are worse places to be; Thompson has been there. His recovery and insertion back into Warriors lore can be chalked up to the marvels of modern medicine, the incredible levels of competition present in top athletes, or even the Pacific Ocean. Whatever is to thank for it, I’m glad it happened, if only to see Thompson back on the same Finals stage that he has thrived on since 2015. He may not be the player he once was, but he’s definitely the same old Klay, and that’s good enough.