OAKLAND — Thirty-six hours removed from a pair of ankle sprains to both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Golden State Warriors will start both of their star guards in Sunday’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets.
After going through a shooting workout during warm-ups, Thompson — who has what head coach Kerr called a “significant” ankle sprain — was cleared to play, and will start alongside the rest of the Hamptons Five — Curry, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant.
Earlier Sunday morning, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that an MRI performed on Thompson’s ankle Saturday
night came back clean. While that comes as good news for the Warriors, considering that there is no structural damage to the ankle, it’s unknown how much lateral movement Thompson will have.
Over the last four seasons, Golden state has played the Rockets 17 times, more than any Western Conference opponent during that span. During these games, Thompson has been deployed as the primary defender of Houston’s leading scorer, James Harden.
Over the course of an average of 23.7 possessions per game against Harden this season, Thompson has held him to an average of 4.5 points below his per-game output. Last season, in two regular-season meetings, Thompson held Harden to an average of 13.5 points below his average game output. In the Western Conference Finals, he held Harden to 16.3 points per game below his average on 151 defensive possessions — the most any player spent against Harden in the playoffs, aside from Jimmy Butler.
Scoring a league-high 36.1 pointer per game this season, Harden is by far the biggest threat for Golden State from an offensive perspective. With a limited Thompson, who’s had the highest defensive rating of any Warriors starter this postseason (113.5), containing Harden will prove to be difficult at best.
“[Harden’s] got a lot of tricks and a lot of things in his bag that he goes to,” Kerr said on Saturday. “You have to go in knowing what’s coming… The good thing is that we just had six games with Lou Williams, who has a similar game in terms of the tricks and drawing fouls, drawing contact, that sort of thing.”
For Thompson, dealing with postseason injuries is nothing new. Last year, during Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Thompson suffered a bruised leg after Cleveland guard J.R. Smith collided with him near mid court.
Despite severe bruising coupled with extensive pain, Thomson was able to play the rest of the series. While it took some convincing on Thompson’s part, it showed just how high his pain tolerance and drive to compete was.
“The guy’s pain tolerance is incredible,” Kerr said before the game. “We know what Klay is all about but we have to be wise and look at the big picture, too.”
Thompson starting alongside the rest of the Hamptons Five is a significant development. That unit played just seven minutes per game together during the Warriors’ opening-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, and were a net-zero in the plus-minus department, at 97-97. Given that Golden State has lacked energy at the start of games this postseason, it could be a play by Kerr to come out hot against a Rockets team that has been in Oakland since Friday, and from general manager Daryl Morie on down, has professed a near-obsession with beating the Warriors, who they have met in three of the last four postseasons.