NEW YORK — After Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson was left out of the closing lineup for the second time in three games in Monday’s 109-98 win over the Brooklyn Nets, the future Hall of Famer admitted it has been “very hard” dealing with watching some of the most important moments of games from the sidelines.
“Yeah,” Thompson said, when asked if his changing role has been an adjustment. “You kidding me? Go from, you know, one of the best players … it’s hard for anybody.
“I’ll be honest with you. It’s very hard.”
Thompson, who finished 4-for-9 from the field, including 0-for-3 from behind the 3-point arc, exited the game in favor of guard Moses Moody with 7:19 remaining and then spent the rest of the game glued to the bench. He watched Warriors coach Steve Kerr opt to play Gui Santos — a rookie who had played a grand total of 61 minutes across eight NBA games before Monday night — down the stretch in place of Thompson.
This came on the heels of Kerr doing the same thing in Golden State’s win over Memphis on Friday, before closing with Thompson in Saturday’s loss after Andrew Wiggins injured his ankle late in the first half and didn’t return.
Wiggins remained sidelined Monday because of that ankle injury. But instead of going with Thompson down the stretch, Kerr went with Santos alongside youngsters Jonathan Kuminga and Brandin Podziemski, as well as mainstays Stephen Curry — who led Golden State with 29 points in the win at Barclays Center — and Draymond Green.
Kerr said he stuck with that group because it was “competing and making plays and they had the momentum,” and then admitted it has been a difficult season for Thompson.
“He’s fine,” Kerr said. “This is a season where he’s had a lot of ups and downs. It’s not easy for a guy who’s been so good and a Hall of Fame player to deal with the injuries and … it’s never easy for any player, getting older. [But] he’s mentally tough.”
Thompson, who turns 34 on Thursday, tore his ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals and then tore his Achilles a year later, costing him the entire 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.
He returned to average 20.4 points in helping Golden State win the 2022 NBA title and then averaged 21.9 points and shot 41% from 3-point range last season as the Warriors eventually lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the playoffs.
But Thompson’s numbers have dipped this season. He’s averaging 17.1 points — his lowest average since his second NBA season — and shooting career worsts of 41.5% from the field and 37.1% from 3-point range. Meanwhile young players such as Podziemski, Kuminga and Moody have taken steps forward, making Thompson’s role an ever-present storyline.
“I feel great physically,” Thompson said at his locker after the game. “Mentally, probably a little different story. But such is life, huh?”
Green then interrupted Thompson’s scrum and announced that he had once been benched for an NBA Finals game, stating, “So who f—ing cares?”
To his credit, Thompson repeatedly said he was happy for his young teammates, crediting both Kuminga (28 points) and Podziemski for how they played, and went out of his way to praise Santos, who finished with 9 points, 5 rebounds and was a team-best plus-13 in 18 minutes.
“I’ve accepted it,” Thompson said. “I could be mad, but I’m happy for these young guys, honestly. Yeah. We won. And it’s hard to get wins in this league.
“[Santos] played so hard. I am happy for Gui. I mean, incredible. He’s in The [G League], to come up here and make an impact like that? Incredible.”
Santos, a 21-year-old rookie from Brazil who was the 55th pick in the 2022 NBA draft, has now played more minutes across the past three games (44) than he did over the Warriors’ first 54 this season (35), with Kerr saying he was “amazing” in Monday’s win.
“Everybody here always says be ready for when you have the opportunity to be on the court and play,” Santos said. “So when I saw I had a couple minutes on the court, I said I had to bring energy to the team, especially defensively.”
Monday was the latest bizarre night in a season full of them for the Warriors, who are 22-25 after win. Games in Philadelphia on Wednesday and Indiana on Thursday will round out this five-game East Coast swing — and push the Warriors through the trade deadline.
Now officially two-thirds of the way through the season, Golden State is still in 12th place in the Western Conference, percentage points behind the Houston Rockets in 11th, a game behind the Utah Jazz in 10th and 1½ behind the Los Angeles Lakers in ninth.
But not only do the Warriors have to navigate their way up the West standings, they also have to continue to deal with the reality of Thompson’s fluid place as part of Golden State’s lineups in the biggest moments of games.
“I know he wants to shoot the ball better,” Curry said. “I know he wants to be out there on the floor. He’s a champion. He is a guy that’s been as much a part of all of our success as anybody. The challenge as we get deeper into our careers is the adjustments that we all have to make to try to continue to win at the highest level.
“So the way this game works, there’s ebbs and flows. There’s down periods in the season, there’s times where it’s your time to shine. You have to stay locked in, stay ready. I haven’t talked to him just specifically about it, but it is about just staying positive, staying ready and still play 30 minutes. And you’ve made a lot of timely plays for us. So just stay in it, because everything comes back around.”
First appeared on www.espn.com