SAN FRANCISCO – Kevon Looney caught up with Steve Adams to get the long rebound from Stephen Curry’s 3-point missed attempt. He threw the ball a few feet to the right of him at Klay Thompson. In one smooth motion, Thompson caught and threw the ball, good for a 28-foot triple.
This was the shot that led the Warriors to a 110-96 victory in Game 6 over the Grizzlies, sending them back to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2019.
“It’s special,” Thompson said. “I mean, everything we’ve been through in the last few years is really an incredible opportunity.”
Thompson has a special relationship with Game 6s in the playoffs. He has scored at least 25 points in six of the last seven 6-a-side games he has played in.
In the Warriors’ close match against the Grizzlies, Thompson scored 30 points out of 11 out of 22, including eight 3. He also took eight rebounds.
Did this triumphant performance in Game 6 feel like the others?
“It was better,” Thompson said. “Especially the perspective I have gained from the injuries I have had, to be able to compete at the highest level and be one of the last four teams, is a difficult feeling to describe.”
This was a punctuation on Thompson’s comeback season – the one that saw him, just several months ago, hunched over on the bench with a towel draped over his head as he longed to get back on the floor.
“From the first shot he hit, it was like this – that’s what he’s been looking forward to since he got hurt in the 2019 Finals,” said Stephen Curry. “It’s a different joy. It’s a different energy. When you see it go down, especially in front of our home crowd, it’s just fun to watch.”
According to Draymond Green, there is a correlation between Thompson’s two-year absence and the Warriors’ two-year hiatus from the conference finals.
For most people, Thompson’s shooting is what the Warriors have lost the most. But they have also lost an irreplaceable competitive advantage that Thompson brings.
“I always tell you, [Thompson is] one of the toughest and most competitive guys I’ve ever played with – no, probably the toughest and most competitive player I’ve ever played with, “Green said.” And he showed up tonight. You immediately understood that she was going out on fire. “
Thompson wasn’t the only player whose performance on Friday was the mark of a revitalized season. Looney and Andrew Wiggins were the X factors for the Warriors.
Like Thompson, Looney has a past full of injuries. But unlike Thompson – whose ACL and Achilles tears came consecutively and led to a two-year hiatus – Looney’s were shed throughout his early career. But this season saw Looney become an iron man, only one of five players to play in all 82 regular season games.
After coming off the bench for the first four games of the series, Looney was placed back in the starting lineup. The Warriors had to step out of the gates with multiple dimensions to fight Jaren Jackson Jr. and Adams’ Memphis court of attack.
In his 35 minutes – which included him playing for the full fourth quarter – Looney was a force, hitting 22 career record rebounds, half of which were on offensive glass. As a team, Golden State had 70 rebounds, 44 of which were offensive.
“Kevon should go to Kevon Olajuwon,” Thompson said. “Because he was really just a monster out there. The guy has springy arms. He can just stretch out.”
Putting Looney back into the starting lineup was a decision ultimately made by Green and Curry. The discussion began towards the end of Race 5 when Green said the Warriors were “physically dominated” in the paint.
“We just knew we had to go out and establish an inside presence to start the game, and not worry so much about our score,” Green said. “They made it clear that they were going to beat us up and they were doing a good job. And putting Loon in the lineup changed that.”
This year Wiggins has put together his best season since he was picked up with the first pick in 2014. He saw him play the All-Star Game for the first time – and no less as a starter.
With Curry and Jordan Poole struggling, Wiggins took the level of aggression that takes the Warriors to the next level. He finished the evening with 18 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and one streak. And his defense changed the game, keeping the Grizzlies at just 2 of 15 by shooting for five points as main defender.
“Andrew was special,” Thompson said. “He made huge three for us, huge buckets, double doubles, great defense. He was a great player for us. He Impacts both sides of the ball every night. We wouldn’t be where we are. Without Andrea.”
The game cannot be classified as cute, though. The Warriors fought immensely with turnovers – as did all the series – committing 19 points for 18 Memphis. That, along with 25 points from Desmond Bane and 30 from Dillon Brooks, is what kept the Grizzlies in the game.
But, just like the Warriors did in Games 1 and 4, they relied on their championship DNA to hit the shots when it mattered. The Grizzlies led 89-87 with 6:30 left in the game. Then the Warriors beat the Grizzlies 23-7 for the remainder of the course.
“It’s amazing to know what we’ve been through in the past few years, and six of the last eight, we have the opportunity to play for the finals,” Curry said. “Never take it for granted and understand that that’s all, and then for us to have another opportunity to get another four wins and play for a trophy, it’s special.”