OAKLAND — Klay Thompson paced back and forth behind the Warriors huddle with just over nine minutes to go in regulation on Wednesday night. He put his hands in his pockets, then on his hips, paced some more and looked up at a scoreboard that had his team down by 11. He and went back to his seat at the end of the bench, visibly frustrated.
Golden State head coach Steve Kerr has said several times this week that if Thompson isn’t dead, he thinks he can play. The same was true before Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Raptors on Wednesday. With the series tied 1-1, and Thompson battling a strained hamstring suffered with eight minutes left in Game 2, he was desperate to get on the court.
By sitting Thompson for their 123-109 Game 3 loss, falling behind 2-1 in the series, the Warriors were wagering that they would have a better chance in the rest of the series by giving Thompson two more days of rest before Game 4, when Kevin Durant is likely to return. In doing so, they squandered a virtuoso performance from Stephen Curry and sacrificed one of the few remaining games at Oracle Arena, a game that could cost them a third straight title.
“Never would have forgiven myself if I played him tonight and he had gotten hurt,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “So, you live with the decision you make, you make a wise decision, the wisest one you can.”
“You don’t sacrifice a Finals game to be healthy for the next one, because anything can happen,” said Draymond Green. “But at the same time, you have to be smart. We would much rather have Klay for the rest of the series than putting him out there and losing him and then nothing. So no one sacrificed the game.”
Thompson had not missed a postseason game in his career, starting in 120 straight, playing through an ear laceration and concussion in 2015 and a high ankle sprain in last year’s Finals. Earlier in his career, he played in 214 straight games, a streak snapped not by injury, but by his grandfather’s funeral. He hurt his hamstring with just over 10 minutes to go in Game 2, coming down in the splits from a 3-point attempt.
Golden State had weathered Game 2 without Durant (right calf strain) — a game that saw Curry get off to an 0-for-6 start with an illness, and a game that saw Kevon Looney lost for the series — by getting a game-high 25 points from Thompson before he went down, along with double-digit nights from Curry, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins.
Without Thompson and Durant on Wednesday, Curry was forced to be most of Golden State’s offense, scoring a game-high 47 — including 25 points in his first 21 minutes — with no one else scoring more than 17. The Warriors are now 3-6 when both Durant and Thompson are out.
“Nobody cares those guys are hurt,” Green said. “People want to see us lose, so I’m sure people are happy they’re hurt.”
Curry’s 47 were playoff career-high, the second-most a player has scored in a Finals game his team lost, behind LeBron James’ 51 last season. He went 6-of-14 from 3-point range, and 14-of-31 from the floor. The rest of the Warriors went 6-of-21 from beyond the arc, and shot 22-for-60 (36.7%) from the floor, as the staff was forced to play new lineups to which the players were unaccustomed.
“There was no rhythm tonight,” said Cousins. “No flow.”
With Curry’s early scoring and a 14-8 run at the end of the first half, Golden State closed what was a 14-point lead down to just eight, but without Durant’s ability to loosen the defense, and without Thompson spacing the floor, they wouldn’t get closer than seven the rest of the way, trailing by as many as 17 in the third quarter.
“[Thompson] has a body to him at all times,” said guard Quinn Cook. “Everybody has to know where he is, so that opens up a lot for Steph and Draymond’s pick and roll, and everybody else.”
More than his offense, though, Golden State desperately missed Thompson’s defense. His unique blend of size and speed — to say nothing of his basketball IQ — has enabled him to regularly frustrate opposing teams’ best players, as he did to CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard during the conference finals, and James Harden and Chris Paul in the semis.
Over the first two games of the Finals, Thompson — who both Cook and Kerr have called the best two-way player in the NBA — had held Kawhi Leonard him to 2-of-4 shooting in 44 possessions. Without him, Golden State was forced to play Quinn Cook and Alfonzo McKinnie on the Toronto superstar. They often required help often from Green, leaving Pascal Siakam open to go 7-of-15 for 16 points, with nine rebounds and six of Toronto’s 30 assists on 43 field goals. Leonard finished with 30 points on 9-of-17 shooting, one of four Raptors who scored 17 or more points.
“Their whole roster, whoever was on the floor, made plays,” Cook said.
The Raptors finished 43-of-82 (52.4%) from the floor, and hit 17 total 3-pointers.
“This is the third game in a row we’ve scored 109,” Curry said. “It’s a matter of our defense. We can’t fall into the trap of thinking offense alone is going to win us a championship.”
Toronto — which has quietly built itself to mirror Golden State’s roster construction — looked more like the Warriors than the Warriors, spreading the ball around on offense while getting big 3-point shooting performances from Danny Green (6-of-10) and Kyle Lowry (5-of-9). That versatile, deep scoring attack is one of the reasons the Raptors were seen as the biggest threat to Golden State’s crown this season, and why a game without Thompson — who was active, despite not playing — was so dangerous. That didn’t dampen Draymond Green’s bravado.
“We just got to continue to battle and win the next game, go back to Toronto, win Game 5, come back to Oracle, win Game 6, then celebrate,” he said. “Fun times ahead.”