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Klay Thompson and the Game 6 Moment That Rocked Oracle Arena One Last Time

The All-Star guard embodies everything weird and brilliant and resilient about this all-time great team. In the decisive Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Thompson gave everything he had, until he had nothing else to give.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Sometimes you see something and you don’t believe your eyes, because you don’t want to believe them. Klay Thompson was having an incredible Game 6 for the Golden State Warriors, and that was exactly what the Warriors needed. He was having such a hot shooting night that when he pulled up on a running 28-foot heat check you just knew it would go in. And then he went down. Hours later, we would find out Thompson had torn his left ACL. It didn’t seem possible. It didn’t seem fair.

Late in the third quarter, Thompson was fouled going to the rim and landed awkwardly. When he fell to the floor, he immediately grabbed at his left knee and grimaced while everyone else at Oracle Arena shook their heads in disbelief. Not now. Not again. How could this possibly happen barely 72 hours after the Warriors got Kevin Durant back in Game 5 and then lost him again almost immediately for the rest of the postseason—and maybe forever—with an Achilles injury? It was too cruel to contemplate.

It shook the Warriors. They have been through a wide range of emotions over the last few days, but in that moment the only emotion that seemed to register on Steph Curry’s face was despair. He took one look at Klay lying on the deck in agony and slammed the ball down in frustration, his mouthguard hanging out, as he tried in vain to chomp the stress away. Then he sat down on the court and waited with his knees curled up by his chin and his arms wrapped around his legs. It was a striking scene. Earlier in the series the Warriors said over and over that they worry only about themselves, but this is not what they meant and certainly not what they wanted.

Like the rest of the Warriors and everyone watching in the building and on TV, Steve Kerr was stunned. He said his reaction in the moment was “amazement” that they were in that position again. They had a chance to win Game 6 and force Game 7 and instead they stood there and watched Thompson writhe.

“It’s sort of, you got to be kidding me,” Kerr said. “This has to stop.”

Sometimes you see something and you don’t believe your eyes, because your eyes must be lying to you. When Thompson finally got up, he limped back to the locker room during a timeout. So many people in the arena feared the worst. Two people on press row near me gasped so loudly when he went down that it almost sounded fake, as though they were overacting in a bad movie. But then, improbably, Thompson came back out and onto the floor to shoot his free throws. None of it seemed possible. We later learned that Thompson returned to shoot the free throws because, if he hadn’t, the rules would have automatically kept him out for the rest of the game, and at that point he thought he could still play. Before he was officially ruled out for the remainder of the game, Thompson was doing jumping jacks in the hallway. Draymond Green said he didn’t know that until a reporter informed him. Green said it did “not shock me one bit.”

“Klay is crazy, to say the least,” Draymond said.

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of references to Willis Reed online and IRL as all this was happening. I don’t know what that night for the Knicks was like, but I was there for Thompson’s moment, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve covered countless games, but the roar when he returned is something I’ve never heard before and won’t ever forget.

Sometimes you see something and you don’t believe your eyes, because the information is too overwhelming, and it will fry what’s left of your circuits if you try to process it. Thompson hopped back up the court to try to play defense after those free throws, but he clearly didn’t look right. He came out of the game soon after and retreated back into the Warriors’ locker room, this time for good. Not long after, Thompson limped down the hallway on crutches and out of Oracle Arena for the final time. It was obviously not the way Thompson or anyone else would have wanted it to end for him in that building or in this series. That’s over now too. The Toronto Raptors are the NBA champions. They beat the Warriors on Thursday night to end the proceedings in six games. For the first time in three years, there will not be a parade in the Bay Area to commemorate another crown for Golden State. It’s hard to feel bad for a Warriors franchise that has won so much for so long—and yet it’s hard not to feel bad for what they lost on Thursday night.

Despite playing only 32 minutes—feel free to throw your own air quotes around that—Klay remarkably finished with a game-high 30 points. He went 8-for-12 from the floor, made 4-of-6 3s, and all 10 of his free throws. It was an incredible performance. He gave everything until he had nothing left to give. For a while, it was reminiscent of his performance in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference finals, when he willed the Warriors to victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. We will always remember that game, and we will always remember Game 6 of these Finals.

Given the blows the Warriors had already absorbed, it was hard to wrap your head around Thompson and his teammates suffering even more pain at the worst possible time. How could the Golden State Warriors take another hit to another integral player so soon after Durant went down? Especially considering that, earlier Thursday, Klay was on Instagram being Klay—trying to lift up KD and the rest of the Warriors and basically the entire Bay Area while he was at it.

Even before Thompson crumpled to the court, it was already going to be a difficult offseason for the Warriors. The Durant injury comes with ripple effects. Maybe he’ll opt out of the final year of his deal and go elsewhere. Maybe he’ll opt out and sign a new, longer deal and stay with the Warriors as they move out of their old digs in The Town and across the Bay to their gleaming new facility in The City. Maybe he’ll just pick up his player option for $31.5 million, rehab on the Warriors’ dime, and punt all these decisions until the summer of 2020. That alone will be a lot for Golden State to navigate. Meanwhile, Thompson will be an unrestricted free agent. Everyone expects him to stay put and re-sign with the only team he’s ever known. Even so, this postseason has had an odd, end-of-an-era air to it at times. Green acknowledged hearing “a lot of that noise, it’s the end of a run and all that jazz.” He called that kind of thinking “just not smart” and vowed that the Warriors aren’t done yet. That might be true, but for now the team would almost certainly settle for just having their key guys healthy again.

Kerr said injuries are part of sports, but he wondered whether the Warriors’ bad luck this postseason had something to do with playing “five straight seasons of 100-plus games and all the wear and tear.” Thompson is expected to miss a significant portion of next season, if not all of it. It’s a terrible blow and adds more stress to the Warriors’ complicated offseason.

Kerr called the injuries “just brutal” twice in succession. When someone asked whether he thought the Warriors would be flying back to Toronto instead of heading off for summer vacation had Thompson not gotten hurt, Kerr waved off the question. He said it doesn’t matter because Klay did go down and the Warriors lost.

“More than the what-ifs,” Kerr continued, “is just feeling bad for the players involved.”

When he got up and walked off, Kerr paused on his way out of the interview room. Draymond was standing off to the side in the back waiting to take his turn at the podium. Kerr looked at Green and Green looked at Kerr, and they patted each other on the shoulder and nodded. Neither man said a single word. Sometimes you see something, and without hearing anything, you understand completely.