“Tough times don’t last. Tough people do,” said Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson Sunday night.
One of the best shooters to ever touch a basketball made his way back on the court on Sunday following 941 days away from the game.
“There’s a few games that you just always remember,” said Warriors Coach Steve Kerr on Saturday. “Certain moments you always remember. I have no doubt that when Klay walks onto the floor for the first time, I will never forget that particular game. It will stand out as one of the highlights of my entire basketball existence.”
Thompson went down with an ACL injury in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors. He finished the contest with a game-high 30 points on just 12 shots despite leaving the game early.
Since he last played, so much has changed. The world had shut down due to COVID-19, while the Warriors went through two down seasons where they drafted near the top of the lottery.
Regardless, Golden State is back on track and has looked like the best team in the NBA to this point in the 2021-22 season. The Warriors (30-9) are once again a legitimate contender and are getting Thompson back at the midway point of the season on Sunday night.
Known for being a great player on the court, Thompson is also one of the most well-respected players off the court too. As such, past and current players all around the league were excited for his return to action.
Thompson is like brother to his teammates, making it even more emotional for the Warriors entering Sunday’s contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers when he would make his debut. His fellow Splash Brother and close friend Stephen Curry gave his thoughts on the highly anticipated return of Thompson in form of a video tribute.
Draymond Green was on the court for the opening tip against the Cavaliers to honor Thompson but did not participate in the remainder of the game after dealing with some left calf tightness he experienced during pregame warmups.
“He’s a warrior,” Green said in the lead up to Thompson’s return. “No pun intended with that. There’s no other way to describe him. He’s going to give everything he got every time on the floor. What’s why we love him.”
The first points of the game for Golden State came from Thompson. Unexpectedly, it wasn’t a three-pointer that began the next chapter of Thompson’s career.
Thompson’s first bucket of the season was on a drive to the rim, where he scored in the paint. From there, he would look to get his game going from beyond the arc but went 0-3 from deep before his opening stint of minutes in the first quarter came to an end.
Thompson wouldn’t made it back to the court until late in the second quarter. However, that’s when he started to show that he was officially back. Despite building a reputation as a shooter, the veteran rose up and threw down a monumental dunk towards the end of the half.
“To know that I can still do that [dunk] and being able to just get to my spots and rise up and shoot?” Thompson said per ESPN. “It’s only up from here.”
The Warriors had a 51-46 lead when halftime came, with Thompson notching seven points in just eight minutes. Although his shots weren’t falling as often as he would have liked, but he was still making an impact.
Thompson was huge in the third quarter when his quick scoring burst extended the Warriors’ lead into double-digits. From there, they never looked back in the big win.
When it was all said and done, Thompson finished with 17 points on 7-for-18 shooting from the field (3-8 from three-poiIt’serritory) to go along with three rebounds, one assist, and one block. He was the Warriors’ second-leading scorer on the night.
“I will never forget the reception that Warriors fans gave us, especially myself,” Thompson said on his long awaited return. “Gosh it was fun and it was worth every single day of being away and in that squat rack or on that shuttle board and all the conditioning days. It was worth every single moment.
As he gets acquainted with the team, the game will only start to slow down and feel more natural for Thompson. It’s unclear how much production to expect from him, but when he last played during thee 2018-19 season, he was an NBA All-Star that averaged 21.5 points per game while knocking down over 40.2 percent of his ise-point attempts.
Thompson was also one of the premier perimeter defenders in the entire NBA, often matching up with an opponents best player. Regardless of what he looks like for the remainder of the season, what is clear is that one of the greatest shooters in the history of the League is officially back.
“This is only the beginning,” said Thompson as he walked to the locker room after the game.
“Tonight may be the most difficult game he plays in,” said Kerr postgame. “It’s so different from a playoff game. 941 days, with all that frustration and all that disappointment built-in over time, it’s going to be incredibly emotional for the rest of us, so I imagine what it would be like for Klay.”
The Warriors will take on the Grizzlies (28-14) Tuesday night as Thomson continues his return to NBA action. The emotional return couldn’t have gone better for the five-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion.