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January 31, 2023

If you’re looking for your NBA Wellness Story of the Year, focus on a former Washington State Cougar with a stroke pretty enough for an art exhibit. If you want to see trials and tribulations turn into triumph, then Warriors shooter Klay Thompson is (almost) your man.

The “almost” is because this three-year comeback story won’t be complete unless Golden State — trailing Boston 1-0 in the NBA Finals — ends up winning a ring. But if that happened, count Klay’s return to center stage as the hardwood Hollywood moment.

It’s not hard to root for the 6-foot-6, 32-year-old. No real controversies, no real beefs – Thompson seems to embody even the skittle. Plus, as SB Nation pointed out three years ago, he might accidentally be the funniest player in the NBA. Whether it’s giving interviews to men on the street talking about scaffolding, or dressing up as Larry Bird for Halloween, or congratulating former Washington guard Kelsey Plum on breaking the record for all time with “Go Cougs”, Klay has an affinity for having fun.

Let’s see… what else? Oh, he’s also one of the greatest shooters of all time. 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 (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 remain one of the the most epic playoffs of all time.

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

It’s not exactly Ted Williams going to war at the height of his career, leaving fans forever wondering what his career stats would have looked like had he never missed a season. But he was one of the great perimeter players of his generation leaving maybe 500 threes on the table. Plus, let’s face it – the NBA is more fun when Golden State is rolling. And while they’re competitive without Thompson in the roster, they’re not championship-caliber.

Take what he did in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Grizzlies, who were dangerously close to sending him back to Memphis for Game 7. That’s until Thompson hit 8 of 14 three en route to scoring 30 points. Or the closing game against Dallas in the Western Conference Finals, when he dropped 32 points while hitting 8 of 16 threes.

Of course, there were times earlier this season when you wondered if Thompson would ever find his form. He was wildly inconsistent in his first two dozen games and hit a career low of 38.5%. But a career-low three-point percentage for Klay equals Tony Gwynn’s career-worst batting average. He still managed 20.4 points per game while remaining very effective from the outside.

As Curry said when Thompson was in trouble, “You’re still Klay Thompson. Never forget it. And here are the Warriors, four wins away from their fourth championship in eight seasons.

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

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

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

Maybe Thompson has the Celtics where he wants them. If he has proven anything in the last three years, it’s that he knows how to come back.

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