Before the Golden State Warriors tipped off against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night, Klay Thompson had a conversation with Dominique Wilkins. They discussed how Wilkins’ return from an Achilles tear decades ago has made him an inspiration to Thompson, as he’s been on a similar journey.
Thompson has spent the early portion of the season searching for the 2019 version of himself, before he tore his ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, only to suffer an Achilles injury right before the start of the 2020-21 season.
His 54 points on 21-of-39 shooting — including 10-of-21 from 3 — in the Warriors’ 143-141 double-overtime win was as close as he’s been.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for me,” Thompson said. “There were some hard days for me when I didn’t know that this would be possible in real-time. I am just going to embrace the heck out of it.”
His 54 points Monday night were the most since his career-best scoring outing of 60 accomplished in three quarters on Dec. 5, 2016, against the Indiana Pacers. It was his fourth career 50-point game, and seventh with at least 10 3s.
As Thompson has navigated streaks of poor shooting performances, the bottom line the Warriors have emphasized to him is not to force his game, and play within the flow of the offense.
Teammate Draymond Green told him, “You don’t have to be the same Klay that you once were before. When you understand that and you buy into that, then you become the Klay you were before.”
“When you’re as competitive as he is, when you’re as good as he is, it’s tough sometimes,” Green said. “For two years everybody has been doubting you. That same fire toward that doubt is what made you Klay Thomspon … you don’t just lose that. That is embedded in you. It’s good to see him settle down. He’s not chasing it anymore and it’s falling right in his lap. When you are that good, that’s usually what happens.”
Thompson can feel that he’s more relaxed than he was at the start of the season. In late October, his eagerness to be back on the court and to prove naysayers wrong was a disservice to him.
Now, he’s playing with a different message in his head: “I have to remind myself daily that (playing for the Warriors) is literally the dream. What matters most is having fun and playing hard. All the numbers, all the big nights will come as long as I do those two things.”
Thompson has been giving himself those pep talks for a while now. And with the Warriors’ roster depleted — including missing Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins indefinitely — it’s even more important for Thompson to listen to himself.
The Warriors were with just nine active players against the Hawks. The second unit was comprised of a second-year player, a rookie and two two-way players. (ABC)