Klay Thompson More Critical To Golden State Warriors’ Playoff Success Than Ever Before

Usually, when we think of the Golden State Warriors, Steph Curry is the first name that comes to mind. But the reigning NBA champs are far from a one-trick pony, and without the services of Klay Thompson, the Western Conference power simply wouldn’t be where it is today.

Most often described as quiet and unassuming, Thompson averaged a career-high of 22.1 points per game this past season while acting as Curry’s high-scoring sidekick, further solidifying his status as one of the league’s most lethal, long-distance assassins.

While Thompson’s numbers are obviously impressive, especially when you consider that he plays alongside one of the NBA’s top scorers in Curry and the double-double machine known as Draymond Green, the fact that Curry took the time to acknowledge his running mate during last week’s press conference following Game 5 of Golden State’s second-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers says more about the significance of Thompson’s role on the Warriors than any statistic possibly could.

”I will have to say one thing though. You’ve got to talk about, Klay was in here earlier. That dude had the best series I think I’ve ever seen him play on both ends of the floor, defending Dame [Lillard], exhausting all his energy to make it uncomfortable for him and what he’s able to do offensively, hopefully that doesn’t get lost in our series and the way that we play as a team.”

The proud son of former Los Angeles Laker Mychal Thompson and one-half of Golden State’s “Splash Brothers,” Thompson earned every word of Curry’s press conference praise during the Warriors’ 4-1 series win over the Blazers with an average of 31 points per game and an unbelievable 50 percent mark from three-point land.

More importantly, in the six playoff games that Curry has missed with a sore ankle and a knee injury through the first two rounds of Golden State’s current playoff run, Thompson has taken the all-important offensive lead by finishing as his team’s top scorer on four occasions and combining with Green to form a deadly one-two punch capable of causing any team headaches.

But make no mistake, while the Warriors may have won both of their seven-game series against the Rockets and Blazers in only five games, Curry, Green, and center Andrew Bogut, will all enter the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder with injuries that are sure to leave Thompson standing alone in the offensive spotlight on some nights.

This time of year, injuries to a trio of irreplaceable contributors such as Curry, Green, and Bogut can easily end the season. But it’s situations such as this that allow Thompson to flourish, and at last Wednesday’s press conference, the former Pac-10 standout seemed far more interested in remaining ready for the conference finals than enjoying his team’s four-day layoff in between rounds.

”We’ve got to stay in good shape,” said Thompson. ”We can’t just lounge around. We’ve got to have good practices, but a lot of guys need it to recover. I feel great, and I’m lucky I haven’t had any bad injuries. I’m just excited to get to the next round.”

Throughout the regular season and into the first two rounds of the playoffs, a large majority of NBA hoop-heads were planning to enjoy a Western Conference Finals between Golden State and the San Antonio Spurs. And although some weren’t sad to see the Spurs eliminated, a series against the Thunder means that Thompson’s job on the defensive end will be much tougher than expected.

When 100 percent healthy, Curry usually guards Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook because he’s one of the few players in the league who can match his speed without the ball in his hands. However, with Curry already banged-up and a second straight trip to the NBA Finals just four wins away, Thompson is expected to cover Westbrook more than he did during the regular season, and following Friday’s practice it was obvious that he’d already begun preparing for the added responsibility.

”He’s [Westbrook] arguably the fastest player in the NBA,” said Thompson. ”So you really can’t take a possession off, because anytime you relax and stand straight up he exposes you. So you just gotta be locked in every possession or he can get going.”

With added duties on both ends of the floor, Thompson’s role on the Warriors is more significant now than it’s ever been in the past. And if Golden State manages to defeat Oklahoma City and the Eastern Conference champs to win its second straight NBA crown, Thompson will undoubtedly deserve more credit than he actually receives.

[Photo By Steve Dykes/Getty Images]