Warriors guard Klay Thompson took a deep breath, leaned back in his seat and listened to the roar from a sellout Chase Center crowd.
Golden State Warriors:
This was a moment worth savoring. For the first time in 941 days, Thompson was hearing the PA announcer call his name during pregame introductions. All he had endured the past 2½ years — the surgeries on a torn ACL and torn Achilles tendon; the grueling rehabs; the late-night shots — were to reach this milestone.
But in becoming one of the most important players in Warriors history, Thompson hardly settled for simply being in the lineup. His goal is clear: become better than he was the night he suffered that ACL injury in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. And judging by how he opened his first game in nearly 31 months, Thompson is in a rush to get there.
Forty seconds into regulation, he cut hard to the rim and hit a driving floater in the key. Over the next three-plus minutes, Thompson sent fans to the edge of their seats as he attempted three jumpers, including two 3-pointers, only for each shot to clang off iron.
As he sauntered back to the bench with 7:37 left in the first quarter, he shook his head. There would be no major scoring outburst to kick of his first game back from two injuries known to derail careers. But given that he’s the first person in NBA history to have suffered a torn ACL and a torn Achilles tendon without appearing in a game between the injuries, few expected him to dominant right away.
It’ll take time for Thompson to rediscover the timing and off-ball precision that’s so instrumental to his two-way playing style. Sunday was about celebrating a player who was a driving force behind a dynasty — a catch-and-shoot maestro who formed half of the “Splash Brothers” duo, shunned the spotlight and endeared himself to fans with a quirky humor.
Over the past two seasons, as Golden State endured back-to-back playoff absences, Thompson rehabbed in relative obscurity. With the Warriors now a half-game behind Phoenix for the NBA’s best record, Thompson is finally back where he’s most comfortable — Golden State’s starting lineup.
Hours before tipoff, his teammates arrived at Chase Center — unveiled months after Thompson suffered that ACL injury — in No. 11 Warriors jerseys. During pregame warmups, Thompson got up shots next to Stephen Curry, who still was wearing that No. 11 jersey.
As Thompson exited that pregame floor to loud cheers, he nodded his head emphatically. This was the night he had been daydreaming about. Such anticipation was shared about his teammates, his coaches, his admirers — almost anyone connected with the NBA.
That’s why forward Draymond Green wasn’t about to let a calf injury he suffered in pregame warmups keep him from sharing a special moment with Thompson. Shortly after starting alongside Thompson, Green committed a foul and headed to the bench.