By Monte Poole The Oakland Tribune
SAN ANTONIO — A look equal parts self-disgust and acute determination was in Klay Thompson’s eyes, tugging at the corners of his mouth and, really, masking his entire face. And it sat there, like a storm cloud, for two full days.
It drifted away Wednesday, as Thompson walked out of AT&T Center wearing a contented smile, bolstered by leading the Warriors to victory in the biggest game of his young NBA career.
The second-year guard out of Washington State delivered a huge and redemptive performance, 34 points and a team-high 14 rebounds, to push Warriors to a 100-91 win over San Antonio in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals to even the series at one game apiece as it shifts to the Bay Area on Friday.
The Warriors did it the hard way, again. They faced yet another furious Spurs comeback, but this one never reached the game-swiping level of Game 1. Though San Antonio sliced and hacked at a 20-point deficit, it never got closer than six points.
The cushion was built on Thompson’s back — or, more accurately, his fierce assertiveness and deadeye shooting while playing all but 84 seconds of the game.
“I feel better now,” Thompson said as he dressed and prepared to walk to the postgame podium. “A lot better, actually.”
Despondent after fouling out of Game 1 and watching the Spurs comeback for the win, Thompson charged out for Game 2 with a very clear mission. He had blamed himself, wrongfully but admirably, for the Game 1 loss and sought to vindicate himself.
He drilled back-to-back jumpers five minutes after tipoff and set the stage for the kind of show we’re accustomed to seeing from his teammate, Stephen Curry. Thompson, shooting with astonishing accuracy, scored 29 first-half points — 17 of which came in the first quarter and included nailing 5-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Thompson finished the game with a franchise postseason record seven 3-pointers — with only one miss from deep.
It was a wildly impressive show, and it was the primary reason for the Warriors’ 62-43 halftime lead.
“It was polite of them to at least take turns and not both be on fire on the same night,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said through a layer of sarcasm thick enough to hide an apartment building.
This was, coming after Curry’s 44-point Game 1, Thompson supporting his coach, Mark Jackson, who recently proclaimed Curry and Thompson as the best shooting backcourt in the history of the league.
“I told (Thompson) at halftime ‘That it’s, end of discussion, one of the greatest halves ever,’” Jackson said. “Not only what he did offensively but what he did defensively.”
Oh, yes, Thompson chased San Antonio point guard Tony Parker all over the court, as he had in Game 1, and he also at times faced down dangerous wings Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard.
But it was Thompson’s offense that squelched the sound and squeezed the energy out of the sellout crowd (18,581). He finished with 13-of-26 shooting, including 8-of-9 from downtown, as well as a bushel of rebounds, three steals and three assists.
“Your stat line,” Curry marveled, looking at Thompson, “is amazing.”
This was the kind of game Thompson needed. He needed it for peace of mind, to quell the restlessness, to give him the room to acquit himself for his early exit in Game 1.
“I was getting great looks,” Thompson said. “I got into a rhythm and put a few shots down.”
Now the Spurs have a problem. They entered Game 1 worried about Curry and couldn’t stop him. They entered Game 2 worried about Curry and got drilled by Thompson.
Where do they go from here?
“Klay was unbelievable,” Popovich said, now serious. “A lot of those shots were tough. Some of them were wide open because of mistakes, but others were difficult shots, either contested or off-balance. He knocked them down. That’s what the playoff are about.”
The Warriors are learning that. They learned it the hard way in Game 1. They learned it the happy way in Game 2. The temperature of this series just went up.
“Three and a half hours in the air,” Curry said, anticipating the flight to Oakland. “It’s a lot better to go home with a win.”