‘He’s baaaaack’: Warriors’ Klay Thompson returns and San Francisco erupts

‘As friends. As teammates. I just know what the game means to him.’

To say things were emotional before Sunday’s game at Chase Center would be an understatement. Warriors fans were out of their minds.

Fan favorite Klay Thompson was making his triumphant return, having missed 175 regular season games while recovering from both an ACL knee injury and a subsequent Achilles tendon tear.

One could forgive him for being a bit rusty. But Thompson shined, instead, electrifying a crowd that paid top dollar to see the Warriors’ star play for the first time since he left Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals with that fateful knee problem.

What became known as #KlayDay was a pure Bay Area sports celebration, resulting in a 96-82 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers for the league-leading Warriors.

“It was a long time coming,” said Thompson, after the game. “I was nervous to start. I’m just so grateful to be out here and for the love I received pregame. The video tributes. It was special. It was a night I will never forget. It lived up to the hype.”

Trust me, Klay. No one’s going to forget.

“The fans are the best in the league,” said Thompson. “To come out and make my first shot? The fans are everything. … I’m so happy to be back, doing what I love.”

The fellow Splash Brother has been a transcendent talent throughout his 11-year career, even while playing second fiddle to Steph Curry’s brilliance. But Thompson’s quirky personality and sense of humor have elevated his popularity, perhaps even outshining Curry’s among true Warriors fans. People love this guy, and it’s warranted.

“I’m just happy I’m here and I can say that,” said Thompson. “The last two years were tough. It was an emotional night. I did not know I would dunk on somebody! Hurray for me.”

Coming out for warm-ups, Thompson hyped the crowd with raised hands, asking for them to rain down the love. The assembled crowd obliged. During player introductions, Thompson came off the bench last, with the announcer exclaiming, “He’s baaaackkk!”

The place went bonkers. As expected.

On the Warriors’ first possession, he came off a screen and caught a pass coming down the lane before laying in a difficult running one-hander. In the second quarter, Thompson ran the lane again and dunked on a trio of Cavalier defenders. Curry could barely contain himself. Then Thompson hit his first three, collecting seven points in seven minutes of play.

By the third quarter, Thompson had 14 points, hitting three straight treys. By the fourth quarter, he had 17 points in 19 minutes. He came out shortly after, with 2:41 left in the game, to a huge ovation. It sure felt familiar.

The announcers exclaimed, “How are they not guarding him? Do they know who that man is?”

If they forgot, Thompson will make sure they remember.

“It just felt like a normal basketball game again,” said Thompson. “I’m really excited for the future. It’s gonna be a great year.”

So, Thompson is back, and the Warriors will now need to figure out how to fold him into the mix for the best team in the NBA. While that may be challenging, nobody wanted to talk about it Sunday night. This was a homecoming for a local sports legend.

Curry was especially happy to see his Splash Brother back on the court.

“I’m just happy for him,” said Curry before the game. “As friends. As teammates. I just know what the game means to him. I can’t imagine what these 900-plus days have been like for him. … Just have fun. Enjoy. I know the atmosphere will be electric.”

Curry was right. Thompson lit up Chase Center, just by showing up. Now we’ll see what he can bring to position the team for a championship run.

In the meantime, bask in the Splash Brother’s return.

“It was everything I expected it to be. The crowd was awesome,” said Curry.

Thompson added the ultimate Klay quote.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just happy. Holy crap.”

asaracevic@sfexaminer.com

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