Klay Thompson’s alternate universe 

The most prolific scoring quarter in NBA history is readily available on the Internet, and every so often in the days since he accomplished this feat, Klay Thompson will put on the video and watch himself in action. Just to know that this is in him. It almost feels like a bit of an out-of-body experience, as if the guy on the screen who put up those 37 points in 12 minutes against Sacramento emerged from some alternate reality to briefly inhabit his body.

“I still get chills, watching that,” he says. “It’s a feeling you can’t really replicate.”

And yet this is the remarkable thing about Klay Thompson, as the NBA playoffs approach: He seems to be on the verge of replicating this accomplishment at any moment, in any game. He is not even the best player on this Warriors team — that would be Stephen Curry, whose has spent much of the past couple of weeks embroiled in a tacit lobbying campaign for Most Valuable Player votes ahead of Houston’s James Harden — but in some ways, he remains the most frightening. After that quarter against the Kings, he’s now a constant threat to catch fire in the sort of unfathomable ways that, paired with Curry’s brilliance, could propel the Warriors deep into the playoffs.

Case in point: After struggling through a late-season road trip last week, Thompson came back home and put up 26 in the second quarter Monday against Memphis. There was the alternate universe Klay, back again, sinking long, contested 3-pointers and getting the ball on backdoor cuts and finishing layups with seemingly impossible angles, a no-look left-handed flip that banked off the backboard and landed softly in the net. In that moment, Klay Thompson couldn’t miss. In that moment, he took the reins from Curry, affording Warriors coach Steve Kerr the kind of luxury that few coaches ever get: A backcourt known in nickname hyperbole as the Splash Brothers, either of whom is capable of heating up at any time.

“He’s had a great year,” Kerr says, “and he can get a lot better, that’s the exciting thing.”

And this is the other remarkable thing about Thompson: Even though he entered the league as a legacy — his father is former Los Angeles Lakers center and current Lakers broadcaster Mychal Thompson — he’s also surprised himself with his ability to play in the NBA. He came in to the league as a player who had flown under the radar after attending Washington State. His first season in Golden State, his team stumbled to a lockout-shortened 23-43 record. But little by little, Thompson discovered his confidence: Amid that otherwise forgettable rookie year, he scored 19 points in 18 minutes during a game against Denver. Man, he thought to himself. Did I just do that?

And each year since then, he’s continued to have moments like this one. In his fourth season, at the age of 24, he’s scoring more and shooting better than he ever has before. He is also a legitimate two-way player, a defensive threat who can effectively pester some of the league’s best shooting guards. Over that same span, the Warriors have gotten better, too, as their backcourt has rounded into form. But while Curry is now seen as the centerpiece of the franchise, Thompson wasn’t quite sure where he fit in as recently a few months ago. Throughout the offseason, as the Warriors replaced Mark Jackson with Kerr, Thompson endured trade rumors, the presumptive notion that he would eventually be traded so the Warriors could land Kevin Love.

“That seems like years ago,” Thompson says. It was, he insists, never a motivating factor, but, “I knew I was gonna make a jump in my play. I’ve been more consistent this year. I’m taking better shots. And I’m still playing well on both sides of the ball.”

There is, it appears, no real friction between Curry and Thompson at this point. They both, Thompson admits, have their times when they need to be “greedy” with the ball, but they play off each other so well — they respect each other enough at this point — that there’s a natural symbiosis. It’s an advantage, in a way, for Thompson. Last week, on a typical afternoon at the Warriors’ practice facility in downtown Oakland, all the talk was about Curry’s potential MVP season. At the other end, Thompson practiced his jumpshot, sweating through his shirt, fielding questions with a low-key nonchalance.

“It takes a lot of pressure off me,” he says of Curry. “It takes a lot of pressure off everybody. He’s just so easy to play with.”

There are, of course, still those more frustrating moments between the electric nights he’s had this season, those times when Thompson can be self-critical, when his focus lags, when his shot is not falling and he’s forced to deal with the question of when he might get it back. This can make him impatient, this can lead to overwork. These are the moments when Thompson often hears the voice of his father in his head, both literally and figuratively.

Klay and Mychal talk and text on a regular basis, but Mychal has sometimes been publicly critical of Klay’s performance, and of his decision-making. When Klay was cited for marijuana possession during college, Mychal went on an extended rant about it during his radio show. When Klay was fined for shoving the Indiana Pacers’ Roy Hibbert this season, Mychal joked on-air that he was going to dock his allowance.

But something happened after Thompson had that 37-point quarter. Something in him changed. The notion that broke an NBA record, the notion that he accomplished something unprecedented?

“It gave me so much confidence, doing something that no one had done before,” he said. “Maybe I’ll have a bad game or two, but now I recognize that I’ve already done great things in this league. And I know that it’ll always come back.”

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Michael Weinreb

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