OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors rudely blasted the Indiana Pacers 142-106 as Klay Thompson seized a career-high 60 points in his three quarters of play. It was less a game than a chance for the Warriors to explore their imaginations as Thompson tested the outer reaches of his basketball consciousness.
Of Thompson scoring 60 in under 30 minutes, his superstar teammate Stephen Curry summarized, “That’s a feat that I would put money on to probably never be touched again in the history of basketball. It’s unbelievable.”
Every star has his hot streaks, but Thompson might be the star most defined by his. Curry’s greatness became dependable to the point of routine, but Thompson still has the claim of 37 points in a single quarter. He still has the claim of 41 points and 11 3-pointers in a must-win Game 6. Although Thompson’s cold snaps can be frigid, his hot streaks can summon the surreal.
When Klay Thompson is on, it’s as though the shots fly before the thoughts. Although he might be unconscious, his teammates are highly aware of what’s happening. It’s a different experience than Curry or Kevin Durant in a flow, mostly because it’s so participatory. Curry and Durant call their own numbers, but Klay must get open and be fed. Screens are set with zeal, as teammates eagerly look for No. 11. On Monday, the communal joy extended to the bench, where Thompson's 40-point half had Curry bounding about with deranged glee. Almost incidentally, Golden State had scored 80 points in a half, their second time doing so this season.
Before it was surreal, it was workmanlike.
“Think it started for me when I got a few layups in the beginning,” Thompson recalled. “That really opened up my game. Whenever I'm active off the ball, that's when I'm at my best.”
Thompson started off torching Monta Ellis for an array of 2-point baskets -- a reminder of why the Warriors opted for Thompson over Ellis as their 2-guard of the future. Then Thompson found pay dirt racing behind an Indiana defense that looked every bit like the Pacers were feeling fatigue on the back-to-back.
The points were coming easily, in transition, faster than the Pacers could do anything about them. For whatever reason, they did not do much to change their approach.
In the second quarter, Thompson found his deeper range, with four 3-pointers, and he reached 40 points while making the bench players look like they were in a kids’ bounce house.
He was not done. In the third quarter, he worked his way to the line, grinding out points, setting up his final flourish. Maybe to salvage some dignity, and maybe just because Durant was sitting, the Pacers put Paul George on Thompson -- but to little avail.
Thompson got to 54 -- launching past his career high of 52 points -- on a scattered play, something of a mishandled pass from Zaza Pachulia. It became a rhythm trey in the corner after Klay reflexively threw chaos into the net. The next 3-pointer was set up by Curry, after the point guard stole an inbounds pass and slung a lefty cross-court assist to Thompson at the angle. Thompson was then at 57, with the Oracle Arena crowd barking his name at full throat. The 3-pointer that meant “60” was just vintage Klay. He moved decisively off the ball, working George into a JaVale McGee screen before cutting back for another corner triple. When he went to the bench, Klay had somehow scored 31 more points than minutes played.
Though this game obviously was defined by Thompson’s 60 points, its most memorable play did not include the All-Star shooting guard. In a moment that conjured the famous LeBron James-era Miami Heat, the Warriors scored two seconds after a jump ball in the third quarter. Draymond Green threw a leading touchdown pass to Curry, who, while still in midair, flipped the offering up for Durant, who cranked it home with his left hand. On Monday night, the Warriors were clowning the Pacers, expressing far more creativity than respect.
After the game, opinions were given on just how far the Warriors could have taken this, just how much more Klay could have done to the Pacers. Warriors coach Steve Kerr didn’t give a thought to wasting Thompson’s energy with Golden State up 33 in the final stanza. Could he have gotten 70? Durant teasingly suggested that his teammate “should have gotten 80,” if only he hadn’t missed some shots he usually makes. Such crazy hypotheticals are actually plausible after you see a man disappear into basketball nirvana.
On most nights, Klay Thompson might not be Stephen Curry and he might not be Kevin Durant. But on any given night, he has the ability to reach a level nobody else gets to. As for the Warriors, on offense, they’re making a routine out of the surreal. Thompson expressed, in a way, that as unfathomable and unusual as Monday's performance was, it’s only the beginning.
“We're only 21 games in,” he assessed. “There's definitely another gear.”
If there is another gear, it has not been seen yet, probably by anyone.