OAKLAND: The Golden State Warriors were on the cusp of yet another playoff series victory last week, continuing this stuff-your-eyes-back-into-their-sockets season.
Rather than tune in to watch his middle son guide the Warriors to a Game 5 victory over Portland in the Western Conference semifinals, however, Mychal Thompson headed for Chavez Ravine to support his youngest son, Trayce, a first-year outfielder for the Dodgers.
He sat in the stands at one professional sports venue, oblivious, as Klay Thompson poured in 33 points, played suffocating defense and served his usual, crucial role in another.
Mychal Thompson nervously avoided updates from Oakland, only watching a replay of the game once he learned the Warriors escaped with a 125-121 win.
“My wife thinks I’m weird,” said Thompson, who won two championships with the Lakers as a player, co-hosts a morning radio show on KSPN/710 and is an analyst on Lakers radio broadcasts. “Once I know the outcome, I can relax.”
It’s the compromise Thompson has struck, as he navigates waters familiar to millions of parents who juggle multiple kids in different sports.
Relief from Thompson’s Warriors-induced stress has usually come quickly, thanks to Klay Thompson’s efforts.
The former Santa Margarita High School star took his career-best, regular-season scoring average, 22.1 points per game, and improved it to 27.2 points through 10 postseason games.
With two-time reigning league Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry out because of injury for six playoff games, Thompson shouldered a greater burden in series wins over Houston in the first round and, in the second, the Trail Blazers. His defense on James Harden and, later, Damian Lillard was often pointed to as the primary reason the Warriors escaped the opening two series in so few games.
Then, of course, there have been the 3-pointers. Thompson has made 47 of them in the playoffs this season, and became the first player to make seven or more 3s in three straight playoff games.
“Being able to shoot the ball like that when you’ve expended so much energy at the defensive end of the floor, is an amazing ability,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the Warriors’ practice Sunday in downtown Oakland. “An amazing skill.”
With Curry back at full strength for a star-studded Western Conference finals, which start Monday against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Oracle Arena, there’s plenty of reason to question whether Thompson’s pace will continue.
Thompson will be asked to contain Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, another Los Angeles-area native. While the Blazers proved dogged, the Thunder, with Westbrook and former MVP Kevin Durant, cut a more imposing figure on the opposing sideline.
“They’ve been one of the best teams in the league for six, seven years,” Kerr said. “The reality is in this league all you can ask for is to give yourself a swing at the plate every year. They’ve had a lot of swings and they’ve come really, really close.”
Asked what about his son’s postseason play has impressed him the most, Mychal Thompson said, “His consistency and his focus. He’s really taken that to another level.”
He points to the first-round series against the Rockets. In the Warriors’ Game 3 loss in Houston, Klay Thompson missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.
After that performance, Mychal Thompson told his son to use the unflappable Kobe Bryant, Thompson’s childhood hero, as his model. He said he told him: “Channel your inner Kobe.”
Klay Thompson smirked when asked if his father indeed said those words.
“I might not have seen that text,” he said. “That just means to be aggressive and play with killer instinct. I can’t do some of the things Kobe could do in his prime, but if I play as myself and play with an aggressive mind-set, I’ll be effective.”
The next game, he made 7 of 11 3-pointers in a win, the apparent kickoff party to Thompson’s torrid stretch.
Before turning the page to the playoff penultimate round last week, Curry, who returned for the final two games of the Portland series, stressed the significance of Thompson’s play, saying “that dude had probably the best series he’s ever had.”
“I hope that doesn’t get lost,” Curry said. “I just had to say that.”
How could Thompson possibly be overlooked? In just five seasons since leaving Washington State, Thompson has appeared in a pair of All-Star Games, earned All-NBA honors and won the 3-Point Contest.
And yet, he is still the other Splash Brother.
“In many ways he’s the perfect kind of second star on a team,” Kerr said, “because of that. Steph and Draymond (Green) get most of the attention, Klay enjoys being in the background, living his life quietly.”
That’s not only unique. In professional sports, it’s bonkers. Many players would take umbrage at simply being referred to as a second star.
“Klay,” Kerr said, “would not.”
Every team, he added, has a “pecking order” or “a totem pole.” It’s another statement that would not fly on a team with more fragile egos. With the Warriors, it’s a testament to synergy.
“Guys need to slide into roles,” Kerr said, “and there are teams where maybe you have two guys who want the attention and want the ball and maybe it doesn’t click.”
The Warriors click.
Unlike with his dad, it’s tough to extract a windy explanation from Klay Thompson. While Mychal Thompson is eager to opine – “Because he loves to talk,” Klay said – his middle son constantly demurs and deflects praise.
His dynamite performance in the playoffs?
“I’ve been playing well so far,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to settle. I know the toughest time is yet to come, so I’m not content with having two good first rounds.”
As a collective, the Warriors are good at avoiding controversy. Only rarely do any of their top players offer bombastic headline material. But Thompson’s quiet air runs against the current established by the spontaneous Curry and combustible Green.
As a complement, Thompson’s temperament could be considered one of the keys – a cut-to-fit piece of a jigsaw – in the ballyhooed Warriors culture that so many teams are eager to replicate.
Asked Sunday about Curry’s shoutout, Thompson flipped the credit right back onto the MVP.
“He’s a gracious teammate,” Thompson said. “You’ve seen the way he plays. He doesn’t hog the ball. He’s real efficient as a point guard and he loves the other people involved. He’s just a great leader.”
Taking credit for success may be a game of hot potato around the Warriors, but on Sunday, Curry had the last word.