SAN FRANCISCO — Klay Thompson pondered the two-part question in his own unique way, searching for the right words to convey the meaning of what happened to him.
Three years ago on Monday to date, the Golden State Warriors shooting guard tore the ACL in his left knee against the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, the start of a streak in which Thompson was sidelined for the next two and a half seasons.
On Sunday, Thompson was asked to reflect on that moment and what it meant to be back in the Finals after all he’s been through. He admitted that he had not rebuilt that Monday was the anniversary of that knee injury.
“Well, there are a lot of emotions that day. We were very close to having another three-time championship shot, something that hadn’t been done since Shaq (O’Neal) and Kobe (Bryant),” Thompson began.
“When I hurt my knee, it was like uncharted territory for me because I had been able to be constantly in the lineup my entire career. So I had to realign my entire train of thought with the next few months. I knew I had a lot of training ahead of me, and it was actually tough because I didn’t really get a break. Usually after such a long season you get a nice summer break. I had to go straight to rehab, and it was a long cycle after that, a couple of years.”
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After rehabbing his knee, Thompson tore his Achilles tendon preparing for the 2020-21 season, forcing him through more months of grueling rehab.
“Now, to be here again, I wouldn’t change a thing,” Thompson said. “I’m very grateful and everything I’ve done up to that point has led to this, so I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Thompson returned for the first time since a 2019 knee injury on Jan. 9 and has played in 32 games this season, averaging 20.4 points on 38.5% shooting from 3-point range. He is averaging 17.3 points and shooting 34.2% from 3-point range against Boston in the Finals.
The day Thompson hurt his knee sent the Warriors into a transition period. They had reached their fifth consecutive final in 2019 and trailed Toronto 3-2 in the series. In Game 6, the Warriors were leading the Raptors at home at the time of Thompson’s injury. He went out for a dunk, Danny Green fouled him and he landed awkwardly.
Thompson made both of his free throws, giving him 30 points and the Warriors an 85-80 lead with 2:22 left in the third quarter. Thompson wanted to stay in the game.
“I’ve never had such a serious injury, so I didn’t think it was that serious,” he said. “I thought I might have sprained something in my knee. But you know, when you’re in the championship and playing in front of our fans, your adrenaline is so high that you ignore everything that makes sense and racing with a torn ACL doesn’t make much sense. .
“I just thought, ‘I don’t want to leave these points on the board, man. This is the End. I’m going to go get this 30’ ball. Then on top of that I went to the back and they did a little test and they came to the conclusion that I should probably put on some crutches.”
“And, wow, what a time. Three years ago. That… wow. It just goes by fast.”
Don’t forget the Warriors were without Kevin Durant, who tore his Achilles tendon in Game 5. Who knows what will happen in that series if Durant and/or Thompson don’t suffer devastating injuries.
“That seems like a long time ago,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It was a really weird moment for me because I was obviously devastated by Klay coming in right after Kevin’s injury. We felt like we got wiped out only in back-to-back games, and we were already emotionally drained at that point in the five-year run.
“I also felt this immense pride in our guys’ effort, and almost sending that series back to Toronto to a Game 7. There were all these emotions, but the overriding factors were injuries to Klay and Kevin. It was devastating and very hard to see them suffer.”
At the start of the 2019-20 season, Golden State star Steph Curry injured his hand four games and missed the rest of the season. In the span of six games, games 5 and 6 of the NBA Finals and four games the following season, the Warriors lost Durant to injury and free agency, and Curry and Thompson to injuries.
Thompson, Curry and Kerr aren’t taking this Finals appearance for granted, their sixth in eight seasons.
“Being back here adds a sense of gratitude to being back on this stage,” Curry said. “That chapter will always be part of our journey, for sure. That’s something we’ll probably talk about for a long time.
“Hopefully we can do this work and pay tribute to that three-year journey that actually leads to something really special.”
Warriors forward Draymond Green didn’t feel like reminiscing.
“There’s no need to talk about something unfortunate that happened three years ago,” Green said. “We are here right now. We are staying right now. We are going to have positive thoughts and we are going to move forward.”
Thompson said he might take a moment to acknowledge the anniversary of the injury.
“Maybe for a second,” he said. “But when I step on that court, I want to win by any means necessary. I don’t care how ugly or pretty it is. Let’s just win and protect our home court. I’m not going to sing Kumbaya or anything. I just want to fucking win.”