22 Apr 19
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LOS ANGELES — To prepare himself for a break-out game, Klay Thompson enjoyed some beach volleyball and then took a dip in the ocean. To prepare himself for a break-out game, Kevin Durant mostly relied on X’s and O’s.
With their differing styles and personality, Thompson and Durant appeared in harmony just as their lead performer hit a few off notes. In the Warriors’ 113-105 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 4 of their first-round series on Sunday, Durant (33 points) and Thompson (31) gave the Warriors enough to absorb Stephen Curry’s four fouls and his worst shooting performance of the season (12 points on a 3-of-14 clip and 1-of-9 mark from deep).
Why did Thompson shoot 12-of-20 from the field and 6-of-9 from deep? Simple. After playing here in high school at Santa Margarita Catholic High, Thompson spent part of his Saturday with friends and family. He played beach volleyball with teammate Jonas Jerebko. Then, Thompson saw the Pacific Ocean.
“‘I’m just going to go jump in the ocean,’” Thompson recalled telling Jerebko. “I know it will reset my mind, and it worked.”
Why did Durant shoot well from the field (12-of-21) from deep (3-of-6) and from the free-throw line (6-of-6)? Easy. Durant offered yet another example on why Warriors coach Steve Kerr has called him “the most skilled basketball player on Earth.”
“I have to use full body of my offensive talents,” Durant said. “Whether that’s coming off screens, pick and rolls, being a facilitator or scoring in the post. I have to dive deep into the bag.”
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Thompson and Durant fulfilled those job descriptions under different circumstances.
After averaging averaged only 13.6 points in the Warriors’ first three playoffs, Thompson became a high volume scorer. After morphing from facilitator in Game 1, to turnover prone in Game 2 and high-volume scorer in Game 3, Durant blended all of his skills together in Game 4.
Thompson made his first seven shots, leading the Warriors to feel further and further determined to feed him the ball. Consider how Thompson’s seventh shot played out. Following Durant’s missed pull-up jumper, Warriors forward Kevon Looney grabbed the rebound and passed the ball to a wide open Thompson at the top of the key. From the bench, Curry stood and raised his arms up. After Thompson nailed the shot, Curry pointed to him and danced.
“When Klay gets going like that, it fuels the whole bench,” Kerr said. “You can see everybody jumping around. Everybody gets happy. We all love when Klay gets hot. It fuels our momentum.”
Curry may have jinxed Thompson, though. Before Thompson’s eighth attempt, Curry rushed toward the scorer’s table to celebrate. Thompson’s shot rimmed out. That is okay, though. He made plenty of others.
While Curry finished the first quarter with only one point and two missed shots, Thompson already made 17 points while going 7-of-10 from the field and 3-of-4 from deep. That only marked five fewer points than the Clippers scored entirely in the first quarter (22). While Curry had only two points on a 1-of-5 in the second quarter, including three missed 3’s, Thompson kept scoring. He had 10 points while going 3-of-4 from the field. Thompson played as cool as the shades he wore during his post-game television interviews.
“The ball was just finding me. I didn’t do anything special,” Thompson said. “I was just getting open and knocking down shots. When you’re playing in a good rhythm and you see a few go in, then all you need is a little space.”
Durant can relate to that feeling.
Perhaps as an admission that Patrick Beverley’s pesky defensive tactics have a shelf life, Clippers coach Doc Rivers put Beverley onto Draymond Green. Rivers then started JaMychal Green at center in place of rookie Ivica Zubac. Durant no longer needed to worry about someone bothering him or forcing a turnover as the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Beverley did. Yet, Durant could not tower over the 6-foot-9, 227-pound Green as much.
Durant depended on Warriors center Andrew Bogut to set effective screens for him. Durant showed off his handles by crossing up Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari. When Durant faced double teams, he set up Green and Thompson for easy shots. Durant then ended the first half pulling up from 30 feet. Unlike a controversial call in a loss last month in Minnesota, Durant drew a foul as he shot the ball. Following Gallinari’s foul, Durant then converted on the four-point play to give the Warriors a 62-54 half-time lead.
“Any shot you can make going into halftime, it’s going to be a layup or a four-point play. That’s a good momentum. Basketball is all about momentum and flow,” Durant said. “Even though it was just four points, it was good at that time for us to get separation knowing they had some momentum going into the half.”
Thompson and Durant kept that momentum at varying points in the second half.
Thompson went scoreless and took only one shot in the third quarter, but then he returned again for a critical moment in the fourth quarter. Kerr rested Curry and Durant to open the fourth quarter for two reasons. Curry had four fouls. Durant had already played 30 minutes through three quarters. So with Shaun Livingston, Alfonzo McKinnie, Andre Iguodala and Bogut, Thompson opened the final period making a 3 and a 17-foot jumper for a 96-88 cushion with 9:03 left.
“Just play within the flow,” Thompson said. “I’m not good when I’m forcing shots up. That’s not my game. I’ve got to work off my teammates.”
Durant did the same thing once Kerr closed final 5:43 with the so-called Death Lineup, which includes Curry, Thompson, Durant, Iguodala and Green.
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Following a timeout, Green found Durant cutting to the rim for a dunk. Durant then pointed to Kerr for drawing up the play. When Curry tapped the rebound to Durant on another play, Durant found Iguodala for a fast-break dunk and a 106-94 cushion with 4:34 left. Once the Clippers called timeout, Durant high-fived Green and bumped his head with affection. Less than three minutes later, Curry found an open Durant for a dagger 3 that gave the Warriors a 111-100 lead at the 1:53 mark. Following another Clippers timeout, Thompson set up Durant for an open dunk.
“Coach called my number in the fourth to handle the ball,” Durant said. “That just means score. If I see an opportunity to get a bucket, I try to take advantage.”
Durant and Thompson both took advantage of their opportunities in different ways.
Durant thrived as a post-up player, an outside shooter and a playmaker. Thompson excelled as a catch-and-shoot player with minimum dribbling.
The Warriors sensed Durant would play this way after appearing more aggressive in Game 3. At least Curry sensed Thompson would play this way after seeing him walk to the team hotel on Saturday “with a wet T-shirt with his shades on and typical Klay type-of-vibe.”
Will Durant sustain his play? That might depend on how Durant leans on his different skills. Will Thompson sustain his play? That might depend on if he make another visit to the beach.
“I don’t know if I’m going to jump up north because it’s freezing,” Thompson said. “But it’s something I’ll definitely contemplate if I don’t shoot the ball that well the rest of the year. But hopefully that doesn’t happen.”
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