SALT LAKE CITY – The 3-point shot wasn’t whizzing, so Klay Thompson had to change things.
Against a mediocre Utah Jazz defense, Thompson settled in, went mostly off the ball and found his mid-range shot. Eight of his 11 makes were for 2 for an easy team leading by 26 points. To win, the Warriors didn’t need Thompson to go scorched Earth from beyond the arc; With two surgically repaired legs in his 34th year, Thompson’s teammates need him to accept what the game gives them.
“It looked really good tonight. He looked calm. I’m not forcing anything,” Draymond Green said. “He looked like he was at peace.”
This year has not been peaceful for Thompson. At his peak, Thompson plays like he did in Utah – like an evolved version of himself who can lay low on nights when he doesn’t have his legs, but keeps defenses preoccupied as a threat. going on a goal-scoring frenzy in no time. In his valleys, Thompson becomes visibly upset about not always being the bona fide second option, closer and scorer he was before his two major injuries.
His frustrations resurface when coach Steve Kerr benches him to close out games as he struggles. He kicked chairs and threw things after being benched late in a loss to Phoenix in November. He expressed the realization that he had gone from “one of the best players” to a mere mortal in a critical period when rookie Brandin Podziemski and G League call-up Gui Santos closed in on him during of a victory against the Brooklyn Nets last week. .
After falling short of a win against the Suns on Saturday, Thompson sat fully dressed in his game-worn jersey, with a towel over his head, staring inside his locker. Jerome Robinson nudged him encouragingly on the way out and Thompson threw his phone into his locker in frustration – not with Robinson, but with himself.
We can deduce that Thompson’s frustrations reflect a refusal to accept his new reality. But that only reveals Thompson’s aberrant competitiveness as a double-edged sword.
“I feel like I’m handling it well. I understand there will be ups and downs,” Thompson said. “You want to be as consistent as possible, but at least I’m playing and healthy.”
Thompson’s future with the Warriors could depend on how he balances his passion with reason. Will he go in search of a contract that will reward the player he was and who, perhaps, still thinks is there somewhere within him? Or will he settle into something that matches his maturity level?
Despite his apparent dismay, Thompson told The Ringer that he knows he will have to accept a lesser role in the latter part of his career. Thompson referenced his idol Ray Allen, a superstar who took a lesser role with the Miami Heat in his late 30s.
“Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Thompson told The Ringer. “I will be 35 next year. At 35, I’m coming off an ACL and an Achilles tendon (tear) and I still have the ability to be a very good player. Maybe not the guy who scored 60 points in three quarters and scored an NBA record 37 points in one quarter, but he’s still a big threat.
“I modeled my game after Reggie (Miller) and Ray and those guys were incredibly effective into their late 30s. So I intend to follow this model.
Green saw this quote circulating online and brought it up after the Utah game.
“It’s awesome,” Green said. “You see young guys taking the next step they take – the JKs, the BPs – you have to allow that growth and you have to be OK with that growth. Klay is growing in that sense. It’s an interesting position. Seeing him settle in is important for this team. We need Klay. We need a very good Klay who allows us to run.
Thompson’s 17.1 points per game is the lowest he has averaged since the 2012-13 season and his 37.3 percent from 3 is well below his career average of 41.3 percent. All things considered, what matters most is that Thompson has shown he can grow from his past. That’s something Thompson and the Warriors can benefit from — as they saw in Utah.
“The fact that he can come out like he did tonight speaks to his confidence and his competitive nature,” Steph Curry said. “He said it hasn’t been easy all year, but life isn’t easy. Your job is not easy, so you have to deal with the ups and downs. Whatever peace of mind you can find to enjoy basketball is where it thrives the most. We encourage him to do it and that’s what he tells himself.
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