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What Golden State Warriors Need from Klay Thompson During NBA Playoffs

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What Golden State Warriors Need from Klay Thompson During NBA Playoffs
USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors beat the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of their Round 1 matchup. The first tilt was anything but one-sided.

The Clippers took a 12-1 lead to begin the game, but the Warriors tied it up just over four minutes later. The game was tied after a back-and-forth second quarter. Golden State went up eight after three, but Los Angeles was back up by a point with 2:10 remaining.

Klay Thompson's analysis? "Oh, no pressure," he said. "We knew we had this game."

Such continues a recent trend of extroversion and outward confidence from the normally reserved Thompson. His pre-series comments on Blake Griffin have been well documented, and Thompson passed on a chance to back down on his words.

During the regular season's final week, Golden State battled the Portland Trail Blazers in what was one of the year's most exciting games. Thompson was scoreless in the first half, going 0-of-4 from the field. He was 3-of-6 in the third quarter, but his team was down 10 when he re-entered in the fourth.

He made all three shots he took in the period. The first was a three to cut the deficit to seven. The second was a three to cut it to one with 2:20 left, and the third was a jumper to give his team the lead with 0:41 to play.

The game went to overtime, where Thompson went 3-of-4. His two last shots were threes that gave his team a one-point lead each time. After that final bucket, he turned to the Portland crowd, smiled, stuck his tongue out and ran back on defense.

Jamie Francis/The Oregonian
Thompson's tongue adds a new wrinkle to his game.

He fouled out on a soft call with nine seconds remaining, and Andre Iguodala missed a potential game-winning three as time expired. Even though Stephen Curry was double-teamed on his drive and Iguodala was wide open with the clock ticking down, he hesitated before he hoisted.

Thompson may or may not have drilled the shot, but there is no doubt that he would not have hesitated.

Although his recent bullishness has come as a surprise, he has possessed large quantities of internal confidence for most of his NBA career.

Thompson was the NBA's sixth-most clutch outside shooter this season, and his collection of dagger shots is expansive for a third-year player. On a team that played in more close games than any other this season, and with a No. 1 option (Curry) who almost always faces elite defenders or double-teams in late-game situations, Thompson's love for taking and propensity for hitting the big shot is invaluable.

Thompson is not only a three-point shooter. Of the six game-winning shots the Warriors hit this season, Thompson's turnaround, baseline jumper over George Hill to beat the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was likely the toughest.

But while clutch shooting has long been a staple of Thompson's game, his confidence used to shatter when he got in close to the rim. Only recently has this begun to change, as he has been attacking the basket with far more poise and finishing with better control since the All-Star break. He has also become a better playmaker as of late, and as a result, March and April were arguably the two best months of his career.

Perhaps it is a result of his becoming a more complete offensive player that Thompson has suddenly adopted this cocky attitude. The timing for both could not be better.

With starting center Andrew Bogut out for at least the Clippers series and probably Round 2 (if the Warriors get there), the most obvious player to ask to pick up the slack would be Jermaine O'Neal, the team's only other center.

Here's the problem with that logic: He can only play so much. Bogut or no Bogut, Mark Jackson cannot roll the 35-year-old O'Neal out there for his normal 20 minutes plus 15 of Bogut's. The bulk of these minutes will be eaten by David Lee, Draymond Green and Marreese Speights, but Lee is not fully healthy, Green is limited offensively and Speights is just not that good.

It is actually Thompson who can best make up for Bogut's absence. The lack of a mobile, rim-protecting center makes stopping the Clippers' lethal combination of dribble-penetrating guards and athletic bigs a daunting task. The only way to pull it off is to contain Chris Paul without bringing help, and Thompson is the man who has been assigned to the job.

Make no mistake: He can do it. Thompson is one of the league's better defensive shooting guards.

He defends the pick-and-roll beautifully. He'll fight hard through screens and does a great job of denying his man an opportunity to pass back to the screener. If his man gets ahead of him, he is able to use his length to recover. Paul is one of the best penetrators in the NBA, and Thompson has proven to be one of the few who can slow him down.

Paul did score 28 points in Game 1, but 10 of those points came with the Clippers down late and Paul burying some long, contested jumpers. Thompson still made life difficult for him all night, as he was 6-of-16 before that final run and had an uncharacteristically low assist-to-turnover ratio (eight assists, six turnovers).

Although the turnovers appear to be the more telling number, the eight assists are the bigger testament to Thompson. He made it hard for Paul to get into the lane and because of this, Paul failed to draw extra defenders and find open teammates like he normally does.

Three more assists for Paul (he averages 10.7) would have likely swung the game to Los Angeles.

Thompson can also help compensate for Bogut's loss on the glass. He is generally an ineffective rebounder (3.1 a game is dreadful for a guy who is 6'7"), and with his team giving up size, Thompson needs to commit to crashing the boards and banging for loose balls.

His seven rebounds in Game 1 were as crucial as his defense on Paul.

Mark J. Terrill

No matter what he can do defensively and on the glass though, the Warriors will miss Bogut in those two phases of the game. The one area where they may actually improve is offensively, and it is on Thompson as much as anybody to make that happen.

The Clippers are not a great defensive team, but they are a good one. Paul is one of the few point guards in the Association who can guard Curry, DeAndre Jordan is a shot-blocking artist and Griffin is one of the few power forwards who can guard Lee.

Their weakness is their lack of strong perimeter defenders other than Paul, and that makes Thompson Golden State's biggest offensive threat. He can shoot over or post up smaller, weaker defenders such as Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick and Darren Collison. If he is guarded by Matt Barnes or Danny Granger, he can lose them with his superb cutting and beat them off the dribble.

Thompson led the Warriors in points (22) and shots (20) in Game 1, and he can expect more of the latter as the series progresses. More of the former will depend on what he does with his high shot volume, and his team's offensive success as a whole will largely depend on his efficiency.

Although he always deeply believed in himself, Thompson's mild manner made it difficult to view him as a leader. But as his game continues to ascend and his confidence continues to become outwardly apparent, that is exactly what he is becoming for Golden State.

The timing could not be any better as the playoffs are upon us, and the need for a new leader to emerge has suddenly become great.

 

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

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