The Warriors were choking the game away.
What was once a 16-point lead had whittled down to 5.
The game was being played in the half-court for the Warriors and the full-court for their opponent, as they were creating turnovers and running against a Dubs team that wished it could do the same.
It seemed like Golden State was going to be overtaken just before the finish line.
But the Warriors were in Oklahoma City, and that’s Klay Thompson’s house.
A regular-season game in February is nothing like a Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, but Thompson doesn’t take games off against the Thunder.
Whatever it is in that arena — the energy, the sight-lines, the rims — Thompson can’t help but hit clutch shots in OKC.
Monday night it was two big 3-pointers in the final 150 seconds to lift the Warriors to a 110-98 win over the Thunder.
Thompson might have missed two-and-a-half years thanks to two massive leg injuries, but he is rounding into his old — no, his new and improved form.
Monday was just the latest reassurance. The Thunder might be a shell of the team they once were, but Thompson — like riding a bike — can still bring lightning to the Plains.
And here comes the real fun part: Thompson has proven over the last month that his legs are under him. Offensively, he hasn’t missed a beat. The minutes are just going to go up and up and up.
And the shots will keep going down.
Monday, Thompson played 29 minutes — a season-high.
It won’t be long until he goes above 30 minutes. A total lack of minutes restriction won’t be long after that.
“It’s just to have him back. He looks great out there. He’s moving great. It’s fun to be able to play him 29 minutes — we’ll bump that up,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the win. “I think it’ll start to be a cleaner rotation from here on out. We won’t have to think about it… More fluid, I should call it.”
Thompson might not be the dogged on-ball defender he once was — that part of his game is likely behind him for good. But the Warriors don’t need that from him anymore. That’s Andrew Wiggins’ purview now.
But Thompson is a floor-spacer of the highest order and that could provide the Dubs one of the few things they have truly needed all season: a reliable second offensive option next to Steph Curry, patricianly in late-game situations.
It sure looked that way Monday, at least. When the Warriors needed a basket, Curry had the ball in his hands and attacked the defense with either a high screen or an isolation look that pulled defenders his way.
Both times, Curry’s gravity left Thompson wide open at the top of the key. Both times he knocked down the shot.
With no slight to Jordan Poole or Wiggins, everyone expected those Thompson shots to fall. He’s the greatest catch-and-shoot player of all time and he was getting perfect passes in perfect spots on the floor. To presume the Splash Brother’s jumper would be wet is more than fair.
Wiggins and Poole were on the floor for those clutch shots Monday. I wouldn’t be surprised if that remains the case all the way through the playoffs. Spacing is everything in the modern game and those two players provide plenty.
But Thompson makes the most of that spacing in a way neither Poole nor Wiggins can.
Add in Thompson’s amplified ability to put the ball on the floor post-absence and the Warriors have one dangerous closing four. It’s just missing a Draymond Green.
But that’s a conversation for down the line.
In the meantime, consider this a celebration for Warriors fans and a warning for the rest of the league.
Thompson might have lost some time, but he hasn’t lost a step.
» Jonathan Kuminga is here, and he’s not going away.
The rookie’s last three games have been checkpoints for the rookie – three of the NBA’s worst teams, three contests to really push a 19-year-old.
It’s beyond debate that Kuminga has impressed and earned more playing time.
The only question now is how this will translate against the NBA’s best teams.
Let’s run through the numbers over the last three: 17.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists per game on 60 percent shooting in 26 minutes per contest.
Yes, that’ll do.
Monday, against an OKC team where K stands for kids, Kuminga went for 16 points, four rebounds, and four assists in 23 minutes. It was a stellar performance — he was the best player on the court for large stretches of the game, helping the Warriors’ bench outscore the Thunders’ 46-21.
With Green and Nemanja Bjelica out, Andre Iguodala leaving Monday’s game after six minutes with lower-back tightness, there are minutes both at wing and the five to be had over the five games before the NBA All-Star break.
The Warriors need to run Kuminga for 20 minutes in each of those games.
But what most impressed Kerr was, of course, a screen:
“He set a beautiful screen for Jordan and Jordan went in for a dunk,” Kerr said. “What I loved about that possession is that earlier, he had the ball and got it out of his hands quickly and set the screen. It was everything we preach on a daily basis… He’s starting to feel more and more comfortable with what we’re trying to accomplish on the floor.”
» The Warriors didn’t play a perfect game Monday. Far from it.
And for folks who want the Warriors to add another big to the fold in the coming weeks, the Warriors’ performance against the Thunder will be surely cited as a reason why.
The Warriors were rocked on the glass Monday. Oklahoma City pulled down three times as many offensive rebounds as Golden State — 18 to 6.
It was a huge reason why the game was close late.
With only one true center on the roster — Kevon Looney — the Warriors are going to give up size to nearly every team in the NBA.
But Kerr didn’t blame the lack of inches, he blamed the lack of effort for the rebounding differential, saying that when teams play small they have to be proactive rather than reactive.
He thought the Warriors were reactive Monday.
I agree with him.
The Warriors have more advantages than disadvantages by playing small. That’ll be true for the rest of the season and beyond.
If the Warriors bring energy to the glass and are still getting worked, then a conversation is warranted. But I doubt such a day comes — rebounding has never been a matter of sheer physicality, it’s a matter of want.
The Thunder were more aggressive on the glass Monday. I doubt the Warriors repeat their lackluster effort against the Jazz on Wednesday.