BOSTON — Jaylen Brown was the Celtics’ main defenseman against Klay Thompson in those NBA Finals. Boston limited Thompson to 26 ineffective points on 33 shot attempts. He is 10 out of 33 overall and 4 out of 15 out of 3.
“Thanks for reminding me of my delicious shooting percentage,” Thompson said.
According to Brown, what did the Celtics do so well against Thompson?
“It’s just missing shots,” Brown said. “This player, he can kick him off at any time. We are aware of this. We’re trying to prepare to make sure that doesn’t happen. But we need to do a better job, to be honest. Not doing a good enough job on Klay Thompson.
The truth is somewhere in between. The Celtics bother Thompson with length on the perimeter and shot blockers lurking in the background. They lured him into ineffective looks. But Thompson also missed a clean 3-catch-and-shoot that the Warriors want him to shoot at every opportunity.
Thompson’s Game 2 tape tells a telling story. He missed 15 of his 19 shots. But in a new watch and follow-up to this one, eight of his attempts could be rated as bad, three as decent, and the other eight as excellent.
What matters is the sequencing. Coach Steve Kerr thought Thompson was “pressing” as the game progressed, and his “mini-crisis, or whatever you want to call it” got worse. Thompson tends to chase points when he’s struggling early, and the quality of his shot attempts deteriorates. Bad nights can snowball.
These are Thompson’s first two looks in Game 2. He comes to curl up on a Kevon Looney screen for a catch-and-shoot at the top of the key that rattles in and out then, a few minutes later, flares out to the corner in transition for about as big an opening of a 3 as he got in this series. He misses it.
It’s the type of catch-and-shoot jumper that Brown and the Celtics feel understandably lucky Thompson missed. You can’t lose it in transition, and you never want it to come out of a clean screen with a big drop too far from a contest. Thompson’s third miss was also a relatively open catch-and-shoot 3.
Going into the second quarter, Thompson was 1 of 5 shooting. The only mark was a contested 8-foot fadeaway on a Brown contest. The four misses were great looks in the attack.
That’s when he became a bit more thirsty for creating his own offense early in the shot clock instead of waiting for the offense to come to him, a deflecting tendency that led to some of his worst shooting nights this season.
Thompson, on this possession at the start of the second quarter, comes to recover the ball just after Jordan Poole has crossed the half court. He catches and immediately launches into a two-dribble angled pull-up from about 18 feet out although Brown is in perfect position to jump with him and force him to dash. It missed. It’s the type of shot the Warriors don’t want Thompson taking in half court with 16 seconds left on the shot clock when he releases it.
Later in the quarter, Thompson gets Payton Pritchard on him at the post. He likes to attack smaller defenders. He did it against Jalen Brunson in the Dallas Series. But Pritchard is solid and the Celtics are running well. As enticing as this game may be for Thompson, early results have yielded nothing of substance. This, of his 19 attempts, might have been the ugliest – a turnover left hook (sort of?) as Horford comes in the vicinity.
Thompson missed an immaculate catch-and-shoot 3 in the final minute of the first half. He left his arm up long after the miss, staring at the edge in an almost exasperated manner. He entered the locker room 1 of 8 shooting and exited with the intention of changing his night quickly.
This, again, is never ideal. Check out this catch and release the contested midfielder from 20 feet, he took control of Horford in the first minute of the third quarter with 19 still on the shot clock.
“I probably seemed a little rushed,” admitted Thompson. “I was not under my fire. I’m not immune to that. I’ve been through shooting crises before. The best part is, it’s how you respond. In Game 3, I probably won’t do much different than just playing with good pace and making great shots. When I tend to do that, I tend to have a big night.
Thunder fans still tremble every time Thompson gets up for a catch-and-shoot 3 in Oklahoma City. They’re still marked from Game 6 in 2016. He stabbed Houston with the dagger to knock out the Rockets and essentially end the James Harden-era contender’s game in 2019, pointing the finger at Joe Lacob after he passed by the net.
In the 2019 Finals, Thompson hit two of the biggest 3s in Game 5 to earn a dramatic road victory in Toronto that took the series back to Oakland and – butterfly effect – set up the night in which he had 30 points but tore his ACL landing on a dunk in the third quarter.
Thompson’s one-night playoff volcanoes made him an NBA legend. The memories of his highs are so eternal that the lows that preceded him are often forgotten. Do you remember he went 5 of 17 in Game 2 of that Thunder series? Or his 5 of 15 or 6 of 16 nights in Game 3 and Game 4 losses to the Rockets in this 2019 series?
Thompson, better than anyone, knows one or two well-timed blowouts, usually on the road, can win the Warriors a series, add to their legend and erase everything that has come before them. There’s a belief within the Warriors that they’ll need at least one of those Thompson nights in Boston to escape those Finals.
The good news for the Warriors: As long as the Celtics are active on the perimeter and on the edge, the first-two-game tape is generally okay with Brown. Boston didn’t do a great job shutting down Thompson’s catch-and-shoot opportunities. He just missed several.
Here’s an example of the Warriors’ third-quarter push. Horford ends up on Thompson. Thompson is now guarding it on the other end, so they’re crossed in decent amounts. He cuts under the rim, loses Horford and curls up in a catch-and-shoot from the left wing.
If the Celtics can’t clean that up, Thompson is bound to come to the hot arena for at least a night or two during the remaining games and it could change the streak. But if Boston is able to limit open looks and get lucky with a few early misses, Thompson’s shot selection tends to deteriorate and his inefficiency could remain a swing factor that negatively impacts the Warriors. .
(Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)