SAN FRANCISCO — Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson announced Saturday he will make his long-anticipated return on Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Posting a clip from the movie “Space Jam” on his Instagram page, Thompson said, “How I’m pulling up to chase [Center] tomorrow.”
“IM SO EXCITED TO SEE YALL DUBNATION! LETS GET IT,” Thompson wrote.
Thompson later said in a statement posted by the Warriors: “I hate to use the phrase ‘can’t wait’ because I love to be present in my life. But I cannot wait to play in front of our fans again. I really, really enjoy being a Warrior.”
Thompson participated in a light scrimmage with the team on Saturday before announcing his return. The Warriors star shooter has not played since tearing his left ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors on June 13. Thompson then tore his right Achilles in November of 2020.
“Really, really good,” Warriors forward Draymond Green told Marc Spears of The Undefeated, regarding how Thompson looked in a Saturday scrimmage. Green said it was his first scrimmage with Thompson since Green was recently in health and safety protocols.
“Just playing with him in practice today, which was my first time really scrimmaging with him, it just felt right,” Green told Spears. “Last night I couldn’t sleep. I literally had like electrical currents just flowing through my body like I’m sitting on a wire, and when we lined up for the jump ball today and I’m just sitting there looking at him. Wow, I have not lined up next to this man in two and a half years.”
For Golden State, the anticipation of Thompson’s return has been building for weeks. Head coach Steve Kerr and the players have said they can feel “a jolt of energy coming our way right now” with Thompson returning and center James Wiseman nearing a return and on schedule to participate in contact practice on the Warriors’ upcoming road trip.
Thompson is one of the most beloved Warriors and teammates are giddy about his return.
“I’ve been lucky enough to probably have played in 1,000 games and coached in 500-something,” Kerr said on Saturday. “There’s a few games that you just always remember. Certain moments you always remember. I have no doubt that when Klay walks onto the floor for the first time, I will never forget that particular game.
“It will stand out as one of the highlights of my entire basketball existence just because of who Klay is and how much he has meant to our franchise and the Bay Area, to me personally, to his teammates. He is kind of everybody’s favorite guy and we have all seen him suffer for two and a half years. It will be very emotional.”
Thompson will have his minutes increase gradually. But by several accounts, the shooter still has his touch. When the Warriors had their game at Denver postponed on Dec. 30, Kerr had his team scrimmage instead. The head coach called the scrimmage a “really crucial” and “important emotional event” to have the group with Thompson back together again.
“He’s a bucket,” forward Juan Toscano-Anderson said of how Thompson looked in a recent scrimmage. “I mean, he’s buckets. He had 12 points in 43 seconds. … I said, ‘Damn! We got two guys that can do this?'”
And if there was any doubt as to whether or not Thompson will regain his starting spot, Kerr told a story about when Michael Jordan returned and came back out of retirement.
“I was thinking about that game the other day and I was driving to the airport to go to Indianapolis with Jud Buechler, my teammate,” Kerr said of his former Bulls teammate Jordan. “Michael had come back for the final 16 games for that season and practiced maybe twice and I turned to Jud and said, ‘Jud, what is Phil Jackson going to do? Do you bring him off the bench? Do you start him?’ And Jud goes, ‘Steve. Steve. As a general rule, when you have your own statue outside the stadium, you’re in the starting lineup.’
“A few people ask me what are you going to do with Klay? He’s Klay Thompson, you know? When you can score 60 points in 29 minutes, generally your coach should start you. So Klay is going to start.”
Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown defends pairing with Jayson Tatum, logs first triple-double in win
BOSTON – After Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown produced the first triple-double of his career in Boston’s 99-75 victory over the New York Knicks here at TD Garden Saturday night, he shot down the idea that he and Jayson Tatum can’t have an effective long-term partnership.
“I think we can play together,” Brown said after finishing with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists against the Knicks, who had stunned the Celtics two days earlier at Madison Square Garden thanks to an RJ Barrett banked-in, buzzer-beating 3-pointer. “We have played together well for the majority of our career and things like that. The last year or so hasn’t gone as expected, but I think a lot of the adversity that we’re kind of going through now is going to help us grow and get better in the future.
“If we get over this slump and continue to learn, I think there’s a lot of good basketball on the other side of this. I only can control what I can control. I understand everybody has to do their jobs, but me and JT talk. We talked after the game, communicated with each other and things like that. So we’re on the same page. I get where all the other frustration comes from, but as long as I’m on the same page with him and he’s on the same page with me, that’s where we’re most focused on. So tonight we wanted to come out and get a win and we did it.”
It’s been a second-straight disappointing season for the Celtics, who are 19-21 heading into Monday’s game here against the Indiana Pacers, which will officially end the first half of Boston’s season. The Celtics are now 55-57 since the start of last season — after a stretch of three trips to the Eastern Conference finals in four seasons.
When Brown, who is averaging 24.1 points per game, and Tatum, who is averaging 25.5 points per game, share the court for Boston this season, the Celtics are 4.6 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents in over 500 minutes. But after Boston has consistently been among the top teams in the East in recent seasons, the Celtics falling into the middle of the pack has fallen on the shoulders of the team’s two young stars.
After Thursday’s ugly loss in New York, which saw Boston give up a 25-point lead — the league-leading fourth time this season the Celtics have blown a lead of 19 or more points — Brown said he and Tatum chatted about the season, and said that despite the individual and team success both have enjoyed to this point in their careers, they still have much to learn as they enter their mid-20s.
“Any time you blow a lead like that, it stings,” Brown said. “You’re not going to forget it. We learned from that experience. So that’s all it is. I know that people are tired of hearing that, but a lot of learning and growth is still taking place. I’m getting better as a basketball player. Jayson’s getting better as a basketball player and trying to put our guys in position to make them look good. It’s tougher than it looks. so we just gotta continue to get better, make the right plays, trust ourselves, trust our teammates, trust our coaching staff, and let the chips fall where they may.”
In Saturday’s rematch against the Knicks, who were down Derrick Rose, Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier due to injuries, the chips fell the right way for Boston. The Celtics took over the game once New York cooled off after a hot-shooting first quarter, as they held New York to its lowest point total in four years while also ensuring the two teams would split their season series at two wins apiece.
“I liked the way we played in the first half, then I thought in the first five or six minutes of the third we got back on our heels and then they went on a run,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.
“When you’re shorthanded your margin of error is small.”
And while Boston put the clamps on New York defensively, holding them under 20 points in each of the final three quarters, it was Brown who led the way at the other end for the Celtics.
In a season where he and Tatum have been the focus of scrutiny over their passing ability, it was a breakthrough for Brown to set a new career-high for assists in a game, in addition to claiming that first triple-double of his career, as the Celtics were able to get a victory after losses in five of their previous seven games.
“We’ve been spending a ton of time on individual film sessions, and it really started when we couldn’t get the practice time on the court,” said Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who has been vocal about wanting Brown and Tatum to grow as distributors since the preseason. “Guys got their individual work in, but we really dug into that aspect of the individual sessions, more than the team sessions, and he’s been great as far as wanting to learn and grow, and really get better in that area.
Some of the games you could see him over-thinking it at times, when to pass and when to shoot, and he’s starting to figure out that rhythm of simplicity and making the easy pass and trusting your teammates and not playing to the crowd — all of the things we preached all year.
“But it’s a balance when you’re a natural scorer, and you’re trying to shift your focus to how teams are defending you.”
Kevin Durant after loss to Milwaukee Bucks: Not going to force Kyrie Irving to get vaccinated
Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant said he hasn’t had any extra conversations with teammate Kyrie Irving about getting a COVID-19 vaccination that would allow him to play in every game this season, not just most of the road games.
Irving, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, returned to the Nets’ lineup on Wednesday in a win over the Indiana Pacers, but is still not able to play in home games because of the vaccination mandate in New York City.
“I told him how important he is, how much I want him to play — play every game,” Durant said after a 121-109 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. “But I’m not about to force somebody to get a vaccine, like that’s not my thing. So he can play basketball? Nah, I’m not about to do that.
“We’ve had conversations about wanting him to be a part of the team and conversations about him being here full-time, but that’s on his time. Whatever decision he want to make, he’s going to make. It’s on us to be professionals no matter what, and do our jobs. All of us — from the owner down to the equipment manager — so whenever he ready, he’ll be ready.”
The Nets, 24-13, have now lost four of their past five games and have given up an average of 118 points over the that span. When asked whether he has gotten an explanation from Irving as to why he has chosen not to get the vaccine, Durant said he hasn’t asked for one.
“I haven’t even asked for an explanation,” Durant said. “It ain’t my place I don’t think. So I’m ready for whatever, that’s been my whole mentality. Whatever happens in this situation, I got to still be me, still go out there and represent the way I represent. I’m supporting whatever my team needs me to do, wants to do.
“It’s a weird situation, who knows? I don’t understand most of this s—. COVID, all of this stuff has been crazy the last few years. So me, I just try to stay centered and focus on me. When Kyrie’s ready to make decisions for himself he will, and I trust that.”
Nets guard James Harden also said that he has not discussed Irving’s vaccination status and noted it wasn’t “strange” to play without Irving again on Friday after playing with him in Wednesday’s win.
“It wasn’t strange, nah,” Harden said. “It felt good honestly to have him back. It felt good. It felt like an extra life that we had. But we got to live with what we’re dealt with and that’s home games we got to figure ways [to win]. And even road games — just ’cause Ky’s on the road with us don’t mean he’s going to be easy for us as well. So we got to mesh and we got to find ways to win games … every time we step on the floor teams are going at us, they feel like they got something to prove and we got to know that. And we got to bring that same mentality towards them.”
Durant echoed the same refrain and didn’t want to use Irving’s absence as an excuse.
“I don’t think so because we’ve been playing the majority of our games without him,” Durant said. “We’re professionals. We’re veterans. We’re supposed to know how to adapt to some s—. We’ve been playing without him all season so one game shouldn’t throw us off like that.”
The reality for the Nets is that they are now 10-10 at Barclays Center this season and 14-3 on the road. Durant brushed off the notion that it might be easier to get up for road games, especially now that the Nets know that Irving will be joining them in most of them.
Nets coach Steve Nash shared a similar thought prior to the game, noting that “we wish we had him all the time, but we’re happy that we have him half the time.”
“I hope it’s not that way,” Nash said of the idea of being more excited for road games with Irving. “I don’t know that our guys really even take a pause to think about if we’re home or road, I think it might get their juices going to get in the building on the road like, ‘Oh yeah, we got Kyrie tonight.’ But I don’t think they’re sitting at home going ‘No fun at home without Kyrie,’ ‘Fun on the road with Kyrie.'”
In the context of the Irving dynamics with the Nets, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was asked how he would handle a similar situation on his own team.
“When it comes to basketball, I feel like I can talk to them,” Antetokounmpo said. “When it comes to a personal decision like that, it’s … I’ve got to let them make their decision. They’re grown men. You know, and every situation is different. I cannot pressure somebody to do something that he doesn’t feel comfortable doing. I can tell you why I did it. Why I felt comfortable doing it. To protect my family, to protect my mom and stuff, stay safe, and you just hope he understands that. But if he doesn’t want to do it, I can’t keep pressuring him.
“I’ve got to focus on myself and come every day and do my job, because that’s what I get paid to do. I don’t know what relationship they have, what kind of relationship they have. They probably have talked to him but they cannot keep on pressuring him to do something he doesn’t feel comfortable because it takes so much energy and takes energy away from basketball. That’s why we’re here.”
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report