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NBA

Klay Thompson set for return, 941 days on from last Warriors appearance

After over two and a half years out with injury, Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson is due to make his NBA comeback against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.

Update:
Klay Thompson set for return, 941 days on from last Warriors appearance
EZRA SMITHAFP

On Sunday night (8:30pm ET), the Golden State Warriors host the Cleveland Cavaliers in the latest instalment of a matchup that defined an NBA era. They’re the only teams to have met in four consecutive finals in any of North America’s major leagues. Between 2015 and 2018, LeBron James and co’s collisions with the Warriors empire dominated the attention in the NBA, gaining the kind of media coverage not seen since the days of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. This was a Warriors side defined above all by Stephen Curry and, between 2016 and 2019, Kevin Durant. It was also a team all about Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and, of course, Klay Thompson.

Thompson poised for first game since 2019 NBA finals

So Thompson’s return, over two and a half years since his last appearance for the Warriors, had to be against the Cavs. The 31-year-old last played a competitive game for Golden State in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA finals, the fifth straight championship series for a Warriors team who were finally up against different opposition, the Toronto Raptors. Durant’s injury had been a major setback for the Warriors but on 13 June, at the old and now abandoned Oracle Arena in Oakland, Steve Kerr’s men were optimistic of forcing a seventh game. They were ahead in the third quarter when Thompson, their hero of the evening, fell to the floor with a knee problem. He picked himself up to score two free throws, but couldn’t go on. Reeling from another injury blow, the Warriors surrendered their lead, went down 114-110 and lost the series 4-2. Their ambitions of a 'threepeat' were over, and hitherto that's the last we saw of Thompson, one of the greatest shooting guards of all time. A unique shooter, the best in history behind the unparalleled Curry. Tonight, the Splash Brothers will share the court once more.

Thompson was a player seemingly made of iron. Having been picked at number 11 in the 2011 draft, he played 66 games as a rookie and, in the seven years that followed, never went below 73 appearances. In the 2018 finals, he played the whole series with a nasty ankle issue. An exceptional defender and a superstar disguised as a grafter, he averaged 20 points per game despite doing the dirty work for Curry and Durant. He has the record for the most points scored in a single quarter (37!) and in one game racked up 60 points, despite spending less than 30 minutes on the court, only having ball in hand for 90 seconds and bouncing it just 11 times. Following confirmation of Thompson's ACL tear after the 2019 finals, he signed a five-year contract extension worth $190m, had surgery, missed the whole of the 2019/20 season… and then snapped his Achilles tendon in September 2020, as he was getting ready to return to the court in a practice match in his native Los Angeles. An absolute catastrophe.

Optimism at Warriors over Thompson return

Thompson has three championship rings and is a five-time All-Star. Exactly what kind of shape he’s now in remains to be seen; all we know is he is back. And that itself is a wonderful news for fans of the NBA and, particularly, for fans of the Warriors, who after five straight finals have failed to make the playoffs in the last two seasons, but will return to the postseason this year. Right now, Golden State are the second best team in the NBA (just behind the Phoenix Suns) and are confident that, with a fit and firing Thompson in their ranks, they will re-establish themselves as the favourites for the title.

Head coach Kerr has made it clear that Thompson will be a starter from day one. However, he’ll start off with around 18 minutes per game as he finds his feet, and won’t play the two sets of back-to-back games on consecutive nights. His return comes later than expected, as it had been anticipated that he would make his comeback last month, but within the Warriors they can hardly contain their optimism. Thompson looks good, is the word coming out of the camp; he’s “in a great place mentally, spiritually, physically”, says Kerr. If so, it’s going to be raining threes in San Francisco Bay and the Warriors will have one of the key pieces back in their jigsaw. 941 days later, the NBA is about to recover one of its most beloved and admired figures. Klay Thompson is back.

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