SAN FRANCISCO — Klay Thompson mulled the two-part question in his unique way, searching for the right words to convey the significance of what happened to him.
Three years ago Monday to the date, the Golden State Warriors guard tore the ACL in his left knee against the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, the start of a stretch in which Thompson was sidelined for next 2½ seasons.
On Sunday, Thompson was asked to reflect on that moment and what it meant to be back in the Finals after all he had to go through. He conceded he had not pieced together that Monday was the anniversary of that knee injury.
“Well, there’s a lot of emotions that day. We came real close to having another opportunity to three-peat, which hasn’t been done since Shaq (O’Neal) and Kobe (Bryant),” Thompson began.
“When I hurt my knee, it was kind of unchartered territory for me because I had been able to be consistently present in the lineup my whole career. So I had to kind of realign my whole train of thought with the months coming up. I knew I had a lot of training ahead, and it was actually hard because I didn’t really get a break. Usually, after such a long season, you get a nice summer break. I had to go straight into rehab, and it was a long cycle after that, a couple years.”
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After rehabbing his knee, Thompson tore his Achilles tendon preparing for the 2020-21 season, pushing him into more months of grueling rehab.
“Now to be here again, I wouldn’t change anything,” Thompson said. “I’m very grateful and everything I did to that point led to this, so I would not change a thing.”
Thompson returned for the first time since the 2019 knee injury on Jan. 9 and played in 32 games this season, averaging 20.4 points and shooting 38.5% on 3-pointers. He is averaging 17.3 points and shooting 34.2% on 3s against Boston in the Finals.
The day Thompson injured his knee sent the Warriors into a transitional period. They had reached their fifth consecutive Finals in 2019 and trailed Toronto 3-2 in the series. In Game 6, the Warriors led the Raptors at home at the time of Thompson’s injury. He went up for a dunk, was fouled by Danny Green and landed awkwardly.
Thompson made his two free throws, giving him 30 points and the Warriors an 85-80 lead with 2:22 left in the third quarter. Thompson wanted to stay in the game.
“I never had such a severe injury, so I didn’t think it was that serious,” he said. “I thought I might have sprained something in my knee. But you know, when you’re in the championship and you’re playing in front of our fans, your adrenaline is so high that you kind of disregard anything that makes sense and running around on a torn ACL doesn’t make very good sense.
“I just thought, ‘I don’t want to leave these points on the board, man. This is the Finals. I’m going to go get this 30-ball.’ Then on top of that, I went to the back and they did a little test and they came out with the conclusion that I should probably put some crutches on.”
“And, wow, what a time. Three years ago. That … wow. It just goes by fast.”
Don’t forget, the Warriors were without Kevin Durant, who ruptured his Achilles in Game 5. Who knows what happens in that series if Durant and/or Thompson don’t sustain devastating injuries.
“That seems like a long time ago,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It was a really strange time for me because I obviously was just devastated for Klay coming on the heels of Kevin’s injury. It just felt like we got wiped out just in back-to-back games, and we were already really emotionally tired at that point from the five-year run.
“I also felt this immense pride in our guys’ effort, and almost sending that series back to Toronto to a Game 7. So there were all these emotions, but the overriding factors were the injuries to Klay and Kevin. It was just devastating and really hard to see them suffering.”
At the start of the 2019-20 season, Golden State star Steph Curry injured his hand four games in and missed the rest of the season. Over the span of six games – Games 5 and 6 of the NBA Finals and four games into the following season – the Warriors lost Durant to injury and free agency, and Curry and Thompson to injuries.
Thompson, Curry and Kerr don’t take this Finals appearance – their sixth in eight seasons – for granted.
“To be back here, it adds a sense of gratitude of being back on this stage,” Curry said. “That chapter will always be part of our journey, for sure. That’s something we’ll probably talk about for a very long time.
“Hopefully we can get this job done and pay homage to that three-year journey actually leading to something truly special.”
Warriors forward Draymond Green had no appetite for reminiscing.
“There’s no need to talk about something that’s unfortunate that happened three years ago,” Green said. “We’re here in this moment. We’re going to stay in this moment. We’re going to think positive thoughts and we’re going to move forward.”
Thompson said he might take a moment to recognize the anniversary of the injury.
“Maybe for a second,” he said. “But when I step on that court, I want to win by any means necessary. I don’t care how ugly or pretty it is. Let’s just win and protect our home court. I’m not going to sing Kumbaya or anything. I just want to frigging win.”