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It is no secret that the Warriors traditionally have been an offensive minded team, with an emphasis on not playing any defense. The addition of Andrew Bogut gave us a certified brick wall in the middle, and Andre Iguodala’s signing this offseason gave us an elite perimeter defender. Iggy and Bogut then received much of the attention for the Warriors fantastic start on defense earlier this year. After all, with the sieve that is David Lee, and two offensive minded guards in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, someone had to be picking up the slack. While Iggy and Bogut did play a large role in this defensive turnaround, someone who hasn’t been getting enough credit is actually Thompson, and the Rockets game on Friday night provided a ton of evidence.
Let’s start with Thompson’s matchup that night, James Harden. Harden’s averages are Durant-like: 25 PPG, a True Shooting percentage of 59 percent, plus he gets to the line nine times a game. In the first half of Friday’s game, Thompson’s length and quickness forced Harden into shooting 5-14. Not bad for Klay. But when you take into account that three of Harden’s five makes came in a 40 second stretch when Thompson had switched off of him, Harden’s first half shooting was abysmal.
The reason, like I said before, is Thompson’s unique combination of both quickness and length. Klay rarely gets his feet crossed up, as he’s almost always in a perfect defensive stance. He can fight through on-ball screens to challenge shots, and when Harden would put his head down and try to get to the rack, not only was Klay able to stay in front without fouling, but he managed to block a couple of Harden’s shots too. This all led to Harden becoming much more of a distributor, often deferring to Chandler Parsons.
Then with just over eight minutes left in the third quarter, Thompson picked up his fourth foul, forcing him off of Harden and onto Parsons. Unlikely as it may seem, the play actually occurred while the Warriors were on a fast break.
There you see (sorry about the blurriness, I’ll have it fixed in the future) Harrison Barnes and Thompson with a two-on-one against Harden. Nine times out of ten this leads to an easy layup, especially against a bad defender like Harden. Unfortunately Barnes makes a crucial mistake by driving the ball to the middle, thus giving up their spacing and really making it a one-on-one after he dumps the ball off to Klay. The wily Harden anticipates this, letting Thompson barrel full-speed into him.
For the lion’s share of the second half, Thompson was then forced to guard Chandler Parsons. To be fair, Parsons had been scorching the Dubs and the switch may have come anyways, but a more likely rationale is that Parsons only shoots three FT’s a game, to Harden’s nine, thus Klay would be less likely to pick up another foul.
When you have Draymond Green guarding Harden, that’s when you really start to miss Iggy. Draymond, who the game before did an outstanding job guarding both Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki, couldn’t stick with Harden, who ended up 9-22 for 26 points. Parsons, who for the entire game had been scoring at will, couldn’t get good looks with Klay on him, deferring to others instead.
This may start to become the norm. Whoever Thompson is on may tend to give the ball up more frequently than they’re used to: I’d never seen Harden pass the ball more than on Friday night, and Parsons soon followed suit. If I’m on the opposing team, why not take my turn at two below-average defenders in Steph or Lee, rather than force the issue against Thompson? Thompson Island isn’t a thing now, but it may be in the future. In the meantime, we’ll have to be pleased knowing that Klay can still have a huge impact on a game, even if he’s not tearing it up from three.