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The top 5 moments of Klay Thompson’s return to the Warriors

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 10, 2022

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson scored 17 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers in San Francisco on Sunday in his first game back from multiple season-ending injuries.  (Associated Press)
Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson scored 17 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers in San Francisco on Sunday in his first game back from multiple season-ending injuries. (Associated Press)
By Evan Webeck San Jose Mercury News

SAN FRANCISCO – After playing his first game in 941 days, Klay Thompson kept repeating himself: The wait was worth it.

There was no shortage of emotion inside a sold-out Chase Center on Sunday night for that spanned more than two seasons. When it was over, after 17 points on 20 shots in 18 minutes, all that was left was to soak in the spectacle.

“I’ll never forget this night,” Thompson said. “I’ll never forget the reception Warriors fans gave us, especially myself. Gosh, it was fun. It was worth every single day of being away and in that squat rack or that shuttle board. All the conditioning days, it was worth every single moment.”

The introduction

“He’s baaaaaaack,” bellowed a voice over the public address system.

The lights had dimmed. Pyrotechnics shot from behind the scoreboard hanging overhead. Hype music boomed. Players danced beneath the basket, as one by one, Kevon Looney, then Andrew Wiggins, then Draymond Green, then Steph Curry were introduced.

The arena was already buzzing when it was time for Thompson’s name. Fans responded with the first of four standing ovations, which lasted for close to 30 seconds; the next would come after his first basket, a thunderous dunk, and his final substitution – but we’ll get to that.

This is the moment that Steve Kerr said will stick with him.

Thompson, the last player left sitting on the bench while his teammates bounced around the dimly lit court, allowed himself to soak it all in.

One thought was all that crossed his mind.

“Just, ‘Wow,’” said Thompson, the former Washington State star. “That’s all that was going through my head: ‘This is unbelievable. This is worth every second.’”

Curry gave up his normal headlining spot in the Warriors’ introductions so that Thompson could have his moment.

“To hear that crowd, knowing that he’s gone through so many highs and lows over the past two years, that was the moment he could celebrate that journey and just go hoop,” Curry said. “It delivered. That moment delivered, for sure.”

Curry said he got goosebumps. Looney said he choked up.

“It’s like watching an exciting movie … a boxing movie and seeing a guy get up off the ground,” Looney said. “It’s one of those moments that you always remember.”

The first bucket

Kerr has reminded his players in the days and weeks leading up to Thompson rejoining them on the court that if anybody will find his shots, it is Thompson; there’s no point in forcing him the ball.

So when he drew up the first play of Thompson’s first game back, it wasn’t intended to lead to Thompson’s first bucket. But Klay was just being Klay. Intended to act as a decoy, Thompson received the ball from Andrew Wiggins and, rather than pass it along, let go of a floater as he turned the corner into the lane.

The crowd waited with bated breath, then erupted. Forty seconds had expired from the game clock.

“I was so excited, I saw a lane to the basket and I just took the opportunity, and it was a really tough floater,” Thompson said. “After that went in, I thought it might be one of those nights where I might be unconscious.”

Curry was supposed to come off a screen as a second option, he said. But in the huddle, Thompson offered a clue of what might happen.

“As he was drawing it up, he didn’t even get a chance to finish writing it up, and Klay’s like, ‘No, can we switch it to the other side?’ Because he likes that way coming off a catch-and-shoot,” Curry said. “And coach kind of stumbled, like, ‘No, there’s another option at the end. Forget it, we’re going to run it over here. If you can get it, just shoot it.’”

“I was actually careful not to draw up a play for him because I thought he’d be too amped up,” Kerr said. “He just saw the opening and he attacked and scored. It was a phenomenal moment. … I should’ve known better.”

The dunk

About 3 minutes before halftime, as the shot clock wound down, Thompson saw his chance to give his surgically repaired Achilles tendon a test. The injury is notorious for sapping athletes of their explosiveness.

Thompson conceded that, over the past two and a half years, doubts entered his head.

So, when Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen switched on to Thompson, the ball handler, he crossed him over and blew right past, set on one destination: the rim. In a flash, Thompson was there, dunking over two other Cavaliers and putting an emphatic end to his recovery.

“He’s been talking about how he feels and what’s going to be the last thing to come back, and that was the answer. It took him nine minutes. He got down the lane and had confidence to go up and try it, even, and got it done. It was vicious.”

Looney, who is no stranger to the rehab process, understood the importance of Thompson’s dunk.

“My whole time here, when Klay had perfect knees and Achilles, I don’t remember him dunking like that,” Looney said. “I know from experience, that’s kind of the last thing that comes. It took me a while to get over that fear of just being able to trust your body, and he seems like he’s already there.”

Thompson marked the occasion with a mean mug while retreating on defense, looking to the sideline and curling his upper lip. His teammates, who jumped out of their seats on the bench and poured on to the floor, offered a more enthusiastic reaction.

“I feel like myself,” Thompson said. “It just took a few minutes of jitters.”


Before doors opened for fans, players were already on the court in various Thompson jerseys, their way of honoring “Klay Day.” But the true showing of support came after the doors opened, with fans packed rows deep on the railing above the tunnel, and Thompson emerged for the first time.

Curry is known to draw a crowd for his warm-up routine, but even he had to check himself.

“It felt like the game,” Curry said. “Everyone was going nuts.”

Thompson sank his first warmup shot, a baseline jumper, and the gathered crowd exploded. There was still an hour to go before tipoff. They followed the same pattern for Thompson’s first six practice shots, a reception unseen before for any Warrior, even Curry.

“That was awesome,” Thompson said. “I love our Warriors fans. I know they were hurting for me the last two years. That was special. I knew it was going to be electric tonight. I tried to visualize this moment for years, really. Gosh, it was worth every second.”

The game ball

Thompson followed Curry into the tunnel after warm-ups, giving fans a subtle fist pump. When the game was over and their media engagements had been satisfied, Curry led the way into the tunnel again, beneath the hordes of fans, with his toddler-aged son, Canon, in his arms. Once again, Klay was right behind. Moments earlier, Thompson exited the game for the final time with 2:41 left and the Warriors’ win secure. Fans alternated between chanting his name and pleading for more. “Klay! Klay! Klay!,” they yelled. “We want Klay!”

When they got back to the locker room, Canon had a gift for Klay: the game ball.

“That was a nice moment,” Kerr said. “Everybody was obviously thrilled for Klay and thrilled to have him back. But it felt normal. It’s been a long time – two and a half years – but it seemed normal to see him there and see him with his teammates.”

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