Looking for something to root for during the NBA Finals? Klay Thompson’s comeback is an easy choice

If you’re looking for your NBA feel-good story of the year, zero in on a former Washington State Cougar with a stroke pretty enough for an art expo. If you want to see trial and tribulation turn into triumph, then Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson is (almost) your man.

The “almost” is because this comeback story three years in the making won’t be complete unless Golden State — which trails Boston 1-0 in the NBA Finals — ends up winning a ring. But should that happen, count Klay’s return to prominence as the hardwood’s Hollywood moment.

It isn’t hard to root for the 6-foot-6 32-year-old. No real controversies, no real beefs—Thompson seems to epitomize even keel. Additionally, as SB Nation pointed out three years ago, he might accidentally be the funniest player in the NBA. Whether it’s giving man-on-the-street interviews talking about scaffolding, or dressing up as Larry Bird for Halloween, or prefacing congratulations for former Washington guard Kelsey Plum breaking the all-time scoring record with “Go Cougs,” Klay has an affinity for amusement.

Let’s see… what else? Oh, he’s also one of the greatest shooters ever. Thompson’s 1,912 three-pointers are the 18th most in NBA history. But of the 17 players ahead of him, only Kyle Korver and teammate Stephen Curry have a higher career three-point percentage than Klay’s 41.7.

Recently, he passed LeBron James for most playoff three-pointers (behind Curry) and the 11 triples he knocked down against the Thunder in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals remains one of the most epic postseason performances ever.

That’s why there was a palpable void in the NBA for two and a half years when Thompson was out because of injury. First, there was the torn ACL he suffered in the Game 6 of the 2019 Finals, when he had 30 points midway through the third quarter. The Warriors lost the game by four and, as a result, the series. After missing the entire 2019-20 season, Thompson tore his Achilles in a pickup game in Los Angeles in November 2020. He’d miss all of that season as well.

This isn’t exactly Ted Williams heading off to war in the prime of his career, thus leaving fans to forever wonder what his career stats would have looked like had he never missed a season. But it was one of the great perimeter players of his generation leaving perhaps 500 threes on the table. Plus, let’s admit it — the NBA is more fun when Golden State is rolling. And though they are competitive without Thompson in the lineup, they aren’t championship caliber.

Take what he did in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals vs. the Grizzlies, who were dangerously close to sending it back to Memphis for a Game 7. That is until Thompson hit 8 of 14 threes en route to scoring 30 points. Or the closeout game vs. Dallas in the Western Conference Finals, when he dropped 32 points while hitting 8 of 16 threes.

Of course, there were moments earlier this season where one wondered if Thompson would rediscover his form. He was wildly inconsistent in his first couple dozen games and shot a career-low 38.5% from deep. But a career-low three-point percentage for Klay is like a career-worst batting average from Tony Gwynn. He still managed 20.4 points per game while remaining highly effective from the outside.

As Curry said when Thompson was struggling: “You’re still Klay Thompson. Don’t ever forget that.” And here the Warriors are, four wins away from their fourth championship in eight seasons.

One thing missing from Thompson’s summary is a signature Finals performance. He was 12 for 40 from distance when the Warriors won in 2015. He was underwhelming when they lost to the Cavs in 2016 and deferred mostly to Curry and Kevin Durant in 2017 and 2018. He was a potential Finals MVP candidate in 2019 before going down with an ACL injury, which brings us to the present.

Klay was MIA in the fourth quarter during Golden State’s collapse Thursday night, hitting just two shots as the Celtics outscored the Dubs by 24 in the final frame. He finished with 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Said Thompson of his performance: “It’s never fun, and it hurts on the biggest stage.”

But, as Klay also said: It’s the first to four, not the first to one.

Maybe Thompson has the Celtics right where he wants him. If he has proved anything over the past three years, it’s that he knows how to come back.

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