OAKLAND — Klay Thompson began this season by shooting 5-for-36 from 3-point range over the Golden State Warriors’ first seven games. He’s going to finish it, either in Game 6 of The Finals on Thursday (9 ET, ABC) or Game 7 on Sunday (8 ET, ABC), having shot a little better.
In the four games that he’s played in this series, Thompson is 20-for-35 from 3-point range. That’s four times as many makes on one fewer attempt than he had in those first seven games of the regular season. It’s a good time for a hot streak and Thompson is certainly on one.
Only one player has made more 3-pointers per game in a Finals series than Thompson’s five per game. That was teammate Stephen Curry, who made 22 (5.5 per game) on 53 attempts in a sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018.
Thompson’s combination of volume and accuracy is unprecedented, and it’s a big reason why the Warriors and Toronto Raptors are still playing. Thompson was the Warriors’ leading scorer in their Game 2 victory. In Game 5 on Monday, he drained seven 3-pointers — including the go-ahead bucket with 58 seconds left.
When the Raptors review the Game 5 film, they’ll see a plethora of ways in which they let Thompson get free to drain those seven 3-pointers.
Being like Mike
On the Warriors’ second possession of the third quarter, they quickly got the ball to Thompson in the post against Kyle Lowry. That situation that produced one of their first buckets of Game 4. Since then, the Raptors have been sending a double-team pretty aggressively.
With Marc Gasol doubling the post-up in this case, Thompson used an old Michael Jordan tactic (which Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard had employed against Philadelphia earlier in the playoffs). As Gasol arrived, Thompson attacked the big man’s outside foot. Not only did Gasol’s momentum prevent him from keeping up, but Gasol essentially set a screen on his own teammate (Lowry).
When Leonard pulled the move against Philly, he found space at the foul line for a 15-foot jumper…
Leonard did the Michael Jordan trick of attacking the doubling big in the direction from which he came & having the big screen his own teammate. pic.twitter.com/fEVle6tXE4
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 10, 2019
Thompson went for the extra point…
Proof that size matters
Thompson has had a few 3-pointers in this series where he’s needed minimal space to get his shot off. His first three points of Game 5 fell into that category as well.
Lowry got around an Andre Iguodala screen pretty cleanly to contest Thompson’s catch-and-shoot attempt. The great thing about Thompson, though, is that he’s 6-foot-7 with a high release at the top of his jump. That allowed him to shoot relatively easily over the 6-foot-1 Lowry.
On the horizontal plane, Lowry is contesting this shot as closely as possible without fouling. On the vertical plane, he’s not even close…
Lowry has been Thompson’s primary defender in The Finals, with Thompson shooting efficiently and more often usual with the opposing point guard chasing him. Overall though, the Raptors have been pretty good defensively, holding the Warriors to 90 points on 86 possessions when that’s been the matchup.
Stay alert … or else
The overall defense hasn’t been as good when Danny Green has defended Thompson, but Green has had more success in suppressing Thompson’s individual scoring. Alas, two of Thompson’s Game 5 3-pointers were scramble situations where Green got caught flat-footed.
Midway through the first quarter, Lowry stripped Thompson in the post (when Thompson again attacked the double-team), but got beat to the ball by Draymond Green, who got the ball back to Thompson before Danny Green (guarding Kevin Durant) could rotate over…
Late in the third quarter, Green got caught drifting toward the other end of the floor when Stephen Curry rebounded his own miss and hit a relocating Thompson in the corner…
The gravity of Steph
Though Curry has been off the floor for about 18 percent of Thompson’s minutes in The Finals, he’s been on the floor for 19 of Thompson’s 20 3-pointers (or 95 percent of them).
You would think that Thompson would shoot more with Curry off the floor. But that hasn’t been the case. Thompson has had a lower usage rate with Curry on the bench (19.7 percent) than he has with Curry on the floor (22.7 percent), and he’s managed to launch just four 3-point attempts in those 27 minutes that Curry has been resting.
In one of the biggest shots of Game 5 — Thompson’s 3-pointer that put the Warriors back within three with 2:32 to go in the game — was a clear illustration of how Thompson gets more and better looks when his “Splash Brother” is on the floor.
With 13 seconds left on the shot clock, Draymond Green slipped a screen for Curry and immediately went to set another screen for Thompson. But both Green’s and Curry’s defenders (Lowry and Fred VanVleet, respectively) stayed with Curry …
That left one defender (Leonard) to guard the ensuing Thompson/Green pick-and-roll. And when Green set a solid screen (no slip this time) on Leonard, Thompson stepped into an open, pull-up 3-pointer before Lowry could rotate over …
The Raptors might prefer that Norman Powell rotate off of Quinn Cook in the corner in that situation, but that’s a tough double-action to defend, and give a ton of credit to …
- Curry for getting off the ball so quickly.
- Green for knowing the Raptors would be outnumbered on the weak side.
- Warriors coach Steve Kerr for, as ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy noted on the broadcast, having Cook (more of a shooting threat) on the floor instead of Iguodala.
Two possessions later, Curry tied the game with a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer where he got a step on VanVleet via an exchange with Thompson. The possession after that, Thompson was again the beneficiary of the attention paid to his point guard.
After a Leonard miss on the other end of the floor, Curry pushed the ball down the floor and shook VanVleet, drawing Lowry’s help …
When Curry passed the ball to Iguodala under the basket, Leonard left Thompson to protect the rim. Two rapid passes later, Leonard was scrambling back to Thompson, who side-stepped the close-out and drained the eventual game-winning bucket …
Thompson is generally a better shooter off the catch (42.8 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers over the last three years) than off the dribble (39.3 percent on pull-up 3-pointers over the last three years), but his percentage on the latter has improved (from 31 percent in 2016-17 to 43 percent this season). And in this series, he’s a remarkable 7-for-9 on pull-up 3-pointers, including 4-for-4 when he’s dribbled once.
A close-out that makes him put the ball on the floor (like Leonard’s on that last play) hasn’t done much to deter him.
Play it again, Klay
Durant’s 11 points in 12 minutes in Game 5 proved to be critical. But with him out again, the Warriors need to continue to get as much offense as they can get from Curry and Thompson.
The Raptors can be (and have been) better at defending the two shooters than they were in Game 5, when they didn’t really make the Warriors work late into their possessions to get their 3-pointers. Only one of the Warriors’ 20 3-pointers (the most they’ve ever made in a Finals game) came in the last six seconds of the shot clock.
One fewer threat on the floor makes things easier for the Toronto defense. But with Curry and Thompson, the Warriors always have a shot.
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