It looked bleak for the Warriors. Twenty-four minutes into the Warriors most pivotal game in the Kevin Durant era, the Warriors were dejected, down 10 to the Chris Paul-less Rockets. They needed a hero.
The one who emerged was Klay Thompson, whose passion and sharpshooting incited the Warriors of old to emerge and force Game 7 with a 115-86 comeback Game 6 drubbing of the Rockets..
It wasn’t Durant, who turned in a 6-of-17 iso-heavy performance his former teammate in Oklahoma City would be pleased with. It wasn’t Stephen Curry who looked gunshy in the first half after starting just 1-of-7 from 3. It wasn’t Draymond Green whose three shots left him no passing lanes with which to work.
Reminiscent of Game 6 two years ago, Thompson was the only Warriors player who looked like he wanted any part of an elimination game.
Head coach Steve Kerr said it’s Thompson’s mindset, or lack thereof, that lets him shine in tense moments:
“I think Klay doesn’t worry too much about repercussions. He doesn’t worry about judgment and results. I think he just loves to play. He’s so comfortable in his own skin. I just think he wants to go out there and hoop, and he doesn’t worry about much else. So the pressure doesn’t seem to bother him much. He just competes and plays.”
Thompson drilled two 3’s to start the third quarter, while picking up James Harden full court. He scored 12 points in the third, all on 3’s and completely changed the energy in the arena.
He had 21 points in the second half and nearly outscored the Rockets himself, as the Warriors defensive effort held Houston to a mere 25 points after halftime. It was the lowest scoring half this calendar year in the NBA and the lowest scoring playoff half since 2013.
Thompson was dominant on both ends, slowing the Houston attacks with his elite defense and draining shot after shot on the other end, yelling to the crowd “we ain’t going home” multiple times, each roar followed seconds later by another dagger from deep. He finished with 35 points on nine 3’s, eerily reminiscent of that 2016 game when he went for 41 points on 11 3’s.
The emotion he was showing was no accident Thompson said:
“I just wanted to play with as much passion as I could tonight. Probably sounded more vocal than I usually am. When your back’s against the wall, if your shot’s not falling, you can always control your passion and how hard you play. Usually when I do that, it trickles over to other aspects of my game.”
Thompson’s fire caught his teammates up in his blaze, too. Once he started getting hot, Curry followed, and Houston was cooked
Curry struggled hard to start and looked about as uncomfortable as we’ve seen him with his shot. He double-clutched a few, hesitated on some more and even had a pull-up elbow jumper miss wide right hitting nothing but the backboard.
But once he saw his teammates shots start to fall his followed suit. He went for 29 points and poured in five 3’s despite his early misses.
Curry credited Green with giving him a halftime pep talk:
“He just told me to slow down. We wanted that game so bad, and the energy in the building and how we were trying to get our way back into it defensively, that affected my offensive game, and I was just rushing a little bit, not being decisive with my shots. It was a nice little pep talk to get my confidence.”
Green erupted too, but not offensively. He would rack up four steals and five blocks erasing any Houston attempt inside. And he chipped in his usual 10 boards and nine assists.
Eric Gordon replaced Paul, out with a hamstring injury suffered in the fourth quarter of Game 5, in the starting lineup and immediately lit up the Warriors. He shot 6-of-8 in the first half, including 4-of-4 from 3, and single-handedly halted every Warriors run with a dagger shot, leading the Rockets to a 17-point 39-22 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
It looked like that’s how the Warriors season was going to go out, with a dud at home getting housed by Gordon. But he would finish with just one field goal in the second half and even missed three straight free throws.
Kerr said this up and down performance is something that this team has done all year:
“Tonight was a pretty good microcosm of our team in many ways. We have these lapses, and then we have these bursts and everything in between. It’s a strange start to the game. You could tell Houston could see it. They could see the Finals right there.”
While it blew up in his face for the first half, he made the same subs at the end of the third. The persistence turned the entire game.
Young played two straight harassing possessions of defense, then drove the lane and found a cutting Shaun Livingston for a layup to put the Warriors up nine.
The ball movement came back, Curry as the initiator came back, and so did the Warriors offense. Now we’ll see if it carries over at all.
The Warriors travel back to Houston now for Game 7 Monday. It is unclear if Chris Paul or Andre Iguodala will be available to play.
Patrick McCaw made his return to the court for the first time since his scary fall March 31. He played four minutes of mop-up duty and hit a jumper after getting a standing ovation from the Oracle crowd.