Klay facing career mortality after Warriors’ win over Nets

NBC Sports Bay Area

Klay Thompson trip to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame keeps running into walls. He’s already deserving, but this season has brought more strife than prosperity. And he might have stared at his career mortality Monday night in Brooklyn.

The Warriors fought their way out of a morass of their own making, prevailing with the element that always gives any team a chance. Defense. It materialized in the second half to overcome a hideous first two quarters and carry them to a 109-98 victory over the Nets.

But most of Golden State’s second-half recovery came without Thompson, a fabulous two-way player in his physical prime but his shooting touch has become unreliable and his defense much less versatile.

“This is a season where he’s had a lot of ups and downs,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters at Barclays Center. “It’s not easy for a guy who’s been so good, a Hall of Fame player, to deal with the injuries. It’s never easy for any player getting older.”

Stephen Curry, whose enduring partnership with Thompson produced the sweetest shooting backcourt in NBA history, seemed almost wistful when asked about Klay being in such a precarious state.

“I know he wants to shoot the ball better,” Curry said. “I know he wants to be out there on the floor. He’s a champion. He’s a guy that’s been as much a part of all our success as anybody.

“The challenge, as we get deeper into our careers, is the adjustments that we all have to make to try to continue to win at the highest level.”

That challenge is getting the best of Thompson. Two major lower-body surgeries – ACL on the left knee, Achilles’ tendon on the right leg – have robbed him of the lateral quickness that once allowed him to guard four positions. He’s averaging 17.2 points per game but shooting career lows from the field.

Thompson finished with eight points on 4-of-9 shooting, including 0-3 from distance. He played 19 minutes in the first half, 11 in the second. The team thrived when he was sitting. Most of his minutes were distributed among Gui Santos, Moses Moody and or Lester Quiñones, whose combined NBA experience amount to less than one-fourth of Thompson’s.

Yet all three made more substantial contributions than Klay. The Warriors had a four-point lead when he was replaced by Moody with 7:19 remaining and, 90 seconds later, the lead was stretched to 11.

The Warriors closed with Brandin Podziemski, Jonathan Kuminga and Draymond Green, Curry and Santos. Two vets, an emerging star, a rookie, and Santos, who was appearing his ninth NBA game.

“They play hard, they bring energy and play with confidence,” Curry said of the Podziemski and Santos. “Good things happened for both tonight and we needed every bit of it to close out a game that was sitting at a six-point game at one point in last four minutes. It was a beautiful brand of basketball.”

Santos was particularly impactful, with nine points, five rebounds, two blocks and a steal to finish plus-10 in 13 second-half minutes. Through sheer hustle, he found ways to extend possessions and disrupt Brooklyn’s offense.

“He’s the reason why we won this game,” Podziemski said.

The Warriors were not going to win this game – their NBA-high 34th defined as “clutch” – with deep shooting. Not when those not named Stephen Curry combined to go 44.9 percent from the field – including 0-of-11 from beyond the arc. Thompson, long one of the league’s top sharpshooters, is 24-of-80 (30 percent) from deep over the last four games.

What rescued the Warriors were the unglamorous but generally effective basketball cousins known as rebounding and defense. They posted a decisive 60-38 advantage on the glass and, after halftime, summoned an energetic defense that limited Brooklyn to 34.4-percent shooting from the field over the final 24 minutes.

“Our defense was really good,” Kerr said. “They missed some shots they’ve hit last few games; they’ve been pretty good from three. They definitely missed some open ones, but I just thought our defense was pretty solid and then we made a lot of second-effort type plays.”

Those are the types of plays Thompson, who turns 34 on Thursday, once made as a matter of routine. He’s a five-time All-Star and deserved every trip. He holds records, some of which easily could exist for decades.

Kerr said he plans to closely monitor Klay’s minutes, indicating they’ll be reduced when the roster is healthy. But, as any coach would do, he also tried to summon a positive spin on Klay’s performance.

“I thought he did a good job tonight moving the ball on the glass and his minutes were good,” he said. “So, he contributed.

“It’s just there’s a spotlight on him because of how great he is, because of the career he’s had. I don’t think that should be a story tonight. The story should be we won a game on the road against a team that’s been playing well. And we had multiple guys step in, with Lester and Moses and Gui. And that’s the story of tonight’s game.”

On many nights that would “the story.” Not this one. Klay’s place in the rotation has never been more fluid because his greatness rarely surfaces. The light of his career does not shine as bright as it once did.

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