Warriors’ Klay Thompson calls playoff return ‘so special’

SAN FRANCISCO — Klay Thompson took a seat at the postgame podium, proudly called Jordan Poole “a star in the making,” then reminded everyone how Steph Curry’s presence “makes us a championship team.”

OK, but, what do you say, Klay, about your hard-fought return to the playoff stage?

“So special,” Thompson answered after Saturday night’s 123-107, series-opening win over Denver. “Before the tip, I thought about all the days in the gym, the days in the doctor’s office, the surgery table.

“To fly up and down the court, knock shot downs, play solid defense, it was a surreal moment for me.”

No, he was not Golden State’s leading scorer, a title that went to Poole with 30 points in his playoff debut.

Nor did Thompson necessarily draw the loudest cheers, not when Curry drops in 16 points in 22 limited minutes fresh off a foot injury.

But all seven of Thompson’s baskets drew appreciation from the Chase Center crowd — and, seemingly, from himself — in the Warriors’ win over the Denver Nuggets in Saturday night’s first-round opener.

“To play in front of the crowd we had, I give Dub Nation amazing credit,” Thompson said. “They were so loud when we ran from the tunnel.

“It’s something I won’t take for granted — playoff basketball. It was very surreal for me.”

As for Thompson’s laid-back persona, he put that on hold. This was playoff time. His face unleashed an occasional snarl, and his 3-point stroke came with a 50-percent success rate (5-of-10).

Thompson’s intensity really roared 6:25 before halftime, when he and Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon each drew technical fouls. Gordon, a San Jose native and former Mitty star, surely did not endear himself to the Bay Area with that squabble. Alas, there were no fisticuffs, nor any nefarious acts toward Thompson’s surgically repaired knee and Achilles.

“Good, old-fashioned trash talk,” Thompson said. “I missed the competitiveness of it. That stuff gets me going from time to time. Aaron’s competitive. So am I. I’m not going to back down.”

Wearing a black headband with a matching sweatband around his left elbow, Thompson sprang up and down the court all night without a sign of his previous leg issues. He had no hitch in his giddy-up.

Alas, Thompson wasn’t spot on from the jump. He missed a 3-point attempt on the Warriors’ opening possession, and not long afterward he committed the first of three turnovers.

Next trip down the court came classic Klay: he vengefully hit a 3-pointer along the right wing, off a Draymond Green assist.

“Klay had a big night shooting the ball,” coach Steve Kerr said.

In the heat of competition, it was easy to forget all the rehabilitation and trials Thompson endured since his anterior cruciate ligament tear in the 2019 NBA Finals and his right Achilles tear before the 2020-21 season.

Thompson missed 941 days. The number of minutes he played during this regular season’s comeback: 941, a nifty stat supplied by Raymond Ridder, the Warriors’ vice president of communications.

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