BOSTON — Jaylen Brown has been the Celtics’ primary defender on Klay Thompson in these NBA Finals. Boston has limited Thompson to an inefficient 26 points on 33 shot attempts. He’s 10-of-33 overall and 4-of-15 from 3.
“Thanks for reminding me of my delightful shooting percentage,” Thompson said.
What does Brown think has been so successful for the Celtics against Thompson?
“He’s just missing shots,” Brown said. “That player, he can get it going at any time. We’re aware of that. We are trying to prepare ourselves to make sure that doesn’t happen. But we’ve got to do a better job, to be honest. Not doing a good enough job on Klay Thompson.”
The truth is somewhere in between. The Celtics are bothering Thompson with length on the perimeter and shot blockers lurking in the background. They’ve lured him into some low-efficiency looks. But Thompson has also missed a batch of clean catch-and-shoot 3s that the Warriors want him firing at every opportunity.
The Game 2 tape from Thompson tells a revealing tale. He missed 15 of his 19 shots. But in a rewatch and tracking of it, eight of his attempts could be categorized as bad, three as decent and the other eight as great.
What matters is the sequencing. Coach Steve Kerr thought Thompson was “pressing” as the game advanced, and his “mini-slump, or whatever you want to call it” worsened. Thompson tends to go hunting points when he has a tough time early, and the quality of his shot attempts worsens. Bad nights can snowball.
These are Thompson’s first two looks in Game 2. He comes curling off a Kevon Looney screen for a catch-and-shoot at the top of the key that rattles in and out and then, a couple of minutes later, flares to the corner in transition for about as wide open of a 3 as he’s received in this series. He misses it.
Those are the type of catch-and-shoot jumpers that Brown and the Celtics understandably feel fortunate Thompson missed. You can’t lose him in transition, and you never want him coming off a screen clean with a dropping big too far away from a contest. Thompson’s third miss was also a relatively open catch-and-shoot 3.
By the early moments of the second quarter, Thompson was 1-of-5 shooting. The lone make was a contested 8-foot fadeaway over a Brown contest. The four misses were great looks within the offense.
That’s when he became a bit thirstier about creating his own offense early in the shot clock instead of waiting for the offense to come to him, a hijacking tendency that’s led to some of his worst shooting nights this season.
Thompson, on this early second-quarter possession, comes to get the ball just after Jordan Poole has crossed half court. He catches and immediately darts into a two-dribble angled pull-up from about 18 feet out despite Brown being in perfectly fine position to leap with him and force it to be rushed. It’s a miss. This is the type of shot the Warriors don’t want Thompson taking in a half-court setting with 16 seconds still on the shot clock when he releases it.
A bit later in the quarter, Thompson gets Payton Pritchard on him in the post. He likes attacking shorter defenders. He did it against Jalen Brunson in the Dallas series. But Pritchard is sturdy and the Celtics rotate well. As appealing as this matchup may be to Thompson, the early results haven’t led to anything of substance. This, of his 19 attempts, might’ve been the ugliest — a turnaround lefty hook (kind of?) as Horford enters the vicinity.
Thompson missed a pristine catch-and-shoot 3 in the final minute of the first half. He left his arm up long after the miss, staring at the rim in an almost exasperated way. He entered the locker room 1-of-8 shooting and exited intent on turning his night around quickly.
That, again, is never ideal. Check out this catch and release 20-foot contested midranger he took over Horford in the first minute of the third quarter with 19 still on the shot clock.
“I probably seemed a little rushed,” Thompson admitted. “I wasn’t underneath my shot. This is nothing I’m immune to. I’ve been through shooting slumps before. The best part is, it’s how you respond. Come Game 3, I’ll probably not do much differently rather than just play with great pace and pump great shots. When I tend to do that, I tend to have a big night.”
Thunder fans still shudder every time Thompson rises for a catch-and-shoot 3 in Oklahoma City. They’re still scarred from Game 6 in 2016. He hit the dagger in Houston to eliminate the Rockets and essentially end the contending portion of the James Harden era in 2019, pointing at Joe Lacob courtside after it went through the net.
In the 2019 finals, Thompson hit two of the largest 3s in Game 5 to pull out a spectacular road win in Toronto that pulled the series back to Oakland and — butterfly effect — set up the night in which he had 30 points but tore his ACL landing on a third-quarter dunk.
Thompson’s one-night playoff volcanoes have made him an NBA legend. The memories of his highs are so everlasting, the lows that came before it are often forgotten. Do you remember him going 5-of-17 in Game 2 of that Thunder series? Or his 5-of-15 or 6-of-16 nights in the Game 3 and Game 4 losses to the Rockets in that 2019 series?
Thompson, better than anybody, knows one or two eruptions at the correct moments, typically on the road, can win the Warriors a series, add to his legend and erase everything inefficient that came before it. There’s a belief within the Warriors that they’ll need at least one of those nights from Thompson in Boston to escape these finals.
The good news for the Warriors: As long and active as the Celtics are on the perimeter and at the rim, the tape from the first two games mostly agrees with Brown. Boston hasn’t done a great job taking away Thompson’s clean catch-and-shoot opportunities. He’s just missed several of them.
Here’s an example from the Warriors’ third-quarter surge. Horford finds himself on Thompson. Thompson is now guarding him on the other end, so they do get cross-matched a decent amount. He cuts under the rim, loses Horford and curls into a catch-and-shoot make from the left wing.
If the Celtics can’t clean that up, Thompson is bound to arrive at the arena hot for at least a night or two during the remaining games and that could change the series. But if Boston is able to limit the open looks and get fortunate with a few early misses, Thompson’s shot selection tends to deteriorate and his inefficiency could remain a swing factor that impacts the Warriors negatively.
(Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)