Barber: Warriors beat Spurs even as Klay Thompson struggles

The All-Star guard has yet to get rolling this postseason, even as Golden State keeps winning.|

SAN ANTONIO - Scary fact No. 1: The Warriors have won their first 11 playoff games of 2017, tying the 1989 and 2001 Lakers for the longest winning streak to kick off an NBA postseason.

Scary fact No. 2: They have done it without Klay Thompson, the most explosive scorer in basketball, finding his offensive sweet spot.

“Yeah, I think it’s coming eventually,” teammate Draymond Green said Saturday night, after Golden State had worn down the San Antonio Spurs 120-108 in Game 3 of these sleepy Western Conference finals. “But one thing we’re not gonna do, we’re not gonna force it and try to make it come.”

The Warriors believe the eruption will happen on its own. Most of them have witnessed it before. They saw Thompson set an NBA record with 29 points in a quarter against the Kings in January of 2015. They saw him blitz the Pacers for 60 points last December - an output achieved in just 29 minutes of court time, and while holding the ball for all of 90 seconds. They saw him almost single-handedly rescue the Warriors’ playoff hopes, however temporarily, a year ago when he hit 11 3-pointers and poured in 41 points in a win-or-perish Game 6 at Oklahoma City.

In the 2017 postseason, though, they’ve seen nothing of the kind.

Thompson has broken 20 points just twice in 11 games.

He had 24 against Portland in Game 3 of the first-round series, shooting a weak 38.1 percent (8 of 21) to get there.

And he had 21 points in Game 4 of the West semifinals two weeks ago.

Mostly, Thompson has been curiously quiet with the ball in his hands.

He is averaging 14.8 points in the playoffs, 7.5 points below his regular-season mean and 35th in the league, behind such middling scorers as Jeff Teague, DeAndre Jordan and 71-year-old Dwyane Wade. Thompson had six-point games against both the Jazz and the Spurs, hitting a combined 3 of 20 shots in those contests.

Among the 42 NBA players with 115 or more points in this postseason, the only guy shooting worse than Thompson’s 39.6 percent from the floor is gunner Russell Westbrook, who shot at a 38.8 clip before his Thunder were eliminated.

Saturday, the Vice Sports website posted a story titled “There’s Something Wrong With Klay Thompson” that took the statistical analysis deeper. The article noted that Thompson is shooting 29 percent on his 3-point attempts when the closest defender is two-to-six feet away (known in layman’s terms as “wide-open 3s”), and argued that the three-time All-Star is taking a lot of long 2-pointers (an NBA no-no) and hasn’t been as efficient as usual coming off of screens.

So what’s up with Klay? He has always been a streaky shooter prone to off nights, but he’s had more of them lately than we’ve come to expect. He doesn’t seem to be injured in any way. And it would be strange to claim he has been adversely affected by the arrival of superstar Kevin Durant, because it didn’t seem to bother him in the regular season.

For the record, none of his Warriors teammates seem to be particularly concerned about the Klaycation. Largely because the team is cruising through the Western Conference like a drill bit through drywall, yes, but also because of their confidence in Thompson. And because of one other thing. Even as his shot has gone cold, Thompson has continued to apply the defensive pressure that has brought him praise as one of the league’s top two-way players.

“He’s got a heck of a defensive assignment during this series,” interim coach Mike Brown said Saturday. “He’s guarding a guy or chasing a guy like Patty Mills around. (Mills) was one of our keys coming into the series - make life as tough as possible on him. Because he’s a guy, when he gets going the team wins usually. I saw the stat earlier in the series, they’re like 40-4 when Patty scores 10 points or more. Klay’s been on him quite a bit, and he’s done a tremendous job of helping the rest of his team.”

Thompson generally played well defensively against Portland’s dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, too, and against Utah’s Gordon Hayward.

According to Green, it isn’t just defense that has made Thompson valuable lately. He noted that the mere presence of the dangerous catch-and-shoot scorer helps the Warriors space the court.

“We’re so used to seeing, ‘Oh, man, Klay and his seven, eight threes.’ But it’s not happening that way,” Green said. “But yet it’s not happening that way because they got a guy glued to him. And if they’re gonna have a guy glued to him, we’re gonna use the rest of that space to get other guys going.”

Brown praised Thompson’s “drive-and-kick” game.

“Obviously, once he gets back to shooting or once he gets in a groove, it’s lights out when he’s cooking, too,” the coach said.

Game 3 showed signs of being a turning point. Thompson wasn’t on fire, by any means. But he had his moments and wound up with 17 points while hitting half of his six 3-point attempts. Is he close to bursting through the dam?

“I always feel like I am,” Thompson said.

The takeaway here is that the Warriors have been good enough to beat the rest of the West with Thompson struggling on offense.

We all know things will get harder soon enough. The Warriors and Cavaliers have to take care of a little more intra-conference bookkeeping. But they are bearing down on one another like a pair of freight trains on a single track.

The Cavs have clearly found another gear in the postseason. The Warriors will need to find one of their own in the NBA Finals. And that gear might be Thompson.

With Durant and Curry in full stride and Green doing a little bit of everything, a big night by the quiet shooter could be Golden State’s X-factor.

“You just gotta stay patient,” Thompson said. “You can’t get worried about the statistics. I mean, I almost averaged 25 a game for us last season in the postseason, and look what it did for us. We lost.”

Indeed they did, against the Cavaliers in seven games. But this year’s team has Durant and a healthy Curry. If Thompson can average 25 a game against Cleveland, it might be too much for even LeBron James to overcome.

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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