The NBA plotlines for the 2021-22 continue to develop from the ongoing Covid pandemic, Stephen Curry breaking the all-time three-point record to Zion Williamson’s foot injury. However, we haven’t had the greatest one yet: the return of Klay Thompson.
The sport has quite simply missed one of the most beloved players within it for more than two seasons now.
Aged just 31, Thompson missed the entirety of the 2019-20 campaign due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee before having to sit out of the whole of 2020-21 after rupturing his right achilles.
Klay Thompson is nearing a return to the NBA after two-and-a-half years out through injuries
Thompson’s injury hell began in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals when he tore his left ACL
After recovering from that, he then ruptured his right achilles so has rehabbed two injuries
Robbed of two of his peak years, the Golden State Warriors shooting guard is now closing in on a return to the court in what will not only lift his side, but those within the NBA.
June 14, 2019. A date that is painful for two reasons for everyone associated with the Warriors. First of all, they lost Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals 110-114 on homecourt to the Toronto Raptors to relinquish their title. Secondly, it’s the start of Thompson’s injury hell.
With Golden State ahead 83-80 in the third quarter, they forced a turnover as Toronto looked to reduce the deficit by one with a two-point shot or level with a three-point make. Collecting the ball just inside his own paint, Curry sprung a quick counter-attack by feeding the red-hot Thompson for a seemingly-easy lay-up or dunk.
Thompson chose to go for the latter with a two-handed effort but as he rose to the rim he is fouled hard across his shoulders by Raptors guard Danny Green.
Off-balance, the Warriors’ No 11 was unable to plant both feet on the floor – instead just landing awkwardly on his left.
The realisation of what had happened was clear immediately. Thompson straight away clutched his left knee as he writhed away in pain.
Rising for a dunk against the Toronto Raptors, Thompson was fouled hard by Danny Green
There were two minutes and 22 seconds left on the clock but time stood still inside the Oracle Arena as concerns for Thompson grew.
Everyone inside the Oracle, which was a raucous and deafening venue, instantly went silent.
Just three days prior in Canada, the Warriors saw team-mate Kevin Durant rupture his right achilles in the second quarter of their Game 5 106-105 win.
To see another devastating injury to a key component of their juggernaut was heart-breaking for those involved to see. Curry, especially, was distraught at his fellow ‘Splash Brother’ going down as he sat motionless at the other end of the court reflecting on what had happened to his team-mate and friend.
The rules of NBA state that if you can’t take a free-throw once fouled, and it’s not a flagrant foul, you cannot return to the field of play. The Oracle, which had now resembled a library, burst into life when Thompson hobbled back on to the floor to take his free-throws.
The Golden State Warriors shooting guard was in obvious pain as he clutched his left knee
Warriors’ No 11 had to initially be helped off the court before he then shot his free-throws
Despite being in obvious pain, Thompson hit both shots to extend the Warriors’ lead to five points – highlighting the mark of the man. He was substituted immediately after knocking down both free throws to be assessed by the medical team. Sadly the diagnosis was the worst possible news: an ACL tear. Who knew that would be the last time we would see Thompson on a NBA basketball court currently?
It certainly didn’t appear that way heading into last season.
November 18, 2020. The second date of disaster for Thompson. Ramping up his fitness, the shooting guard took part in a workout in Southern California where he tore his achilles.
As reported by ESPN at the time, Thompson was playing with several NBA players in Los Angeles and felt pain in the calf area when he landed on his leg and the injury happened.
The devastating news was confirmed the following day after a MRI scan revealed the extent of the damage.
After overcoming his ACL tear, he then ruptured his achilles while ramping up his fitness
At the time of writing this, it has been 925 days since Thompson last played in the NBA. Two years, six months and 11 days of toil has been arduous on the body and mind of the three-time NBA champion but at last there is light at the end of the tunnel.
On November 23, Thompson returned to full practice with the Warriors for the first time since Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals.
‘It’s so exciting,’ the ecstatic five-time All-Star said. ‘Just to be running up and down the court and playing basketball, it’s truly a blessing and it makes coming to work so easy.
‘The boring stuff’s behind me, and now it’s just getting back in game shape – I got to stay patient because I can be an overeager person to get out there and play, but I’m just incredibly grateful to be out there.
‘The work the training staff and I have done over the last two years is really paying off, and it’s hard to put into words how grateful I am to be playing basketball again.’
On November 23, he returned to full practice with the Warriors for the first time since 2019
As Thompson intimated, by all accounts his rehab work is done. The focus now is on developing his conditioning and endurance work to allow him to return as a key part of a Golden State side with title ambitions once more.
‘What Klay Thompson has wanted to do is to continue to improve his conditioning,’ ESPN journalist Adrian Wojnarowski told NBA Today on Monday.
‘So when he re-joins this team, he is able to go out and really play at the highest possible level and be able to just kind of get on this train moving and not sort of ease his way back in and use his return to necessarily improve his conditioning.’
Reflecting on Thompson’s progress, his Golden State team-mate Juan Toscano-Anderson revealed he has been left ’embarrassed’ by him at times when guarding him in one-on-one match-ups since his return to training last month.
‘Klay is like that, he is one of those dudes,’ Toscano-Anderson told reporters.
He has already impressed during scrimmages, says his team-mate Juan Toscano-Anderson
‘We scrimmaged like two weeks ago, and I was guarding Klay, and internally I was kind of embarrassed because he was scoring on me, I was like “man this dude just came off being injured for over a year and he’s competing”.’
‘He looks like he hasn’t lost a step, he’s explosive, shooting the ball and is a 6ft 7in/6ft 8in guy who is strong. I’m really excited to see him back out there, both as a fan and as a team-mate.’
Without Thompson, the Warriors’ rise near the top of the Western Conference (they sit second with a 26-6 record – half a game back from the 26-5 Phoenix Suns) has been one of the biggest success stories of the season.
Yes they have Curry, who broke Ray Allen’s record for the most-made three-pointers in NBA history earlier this month, and Draymond Green – who is once again a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year – but nobody expected them to have such a good season. Many expected them to be hovering in and around the sixth seed – unsure if they’d be a guaranteed play-off team or one battling for a play-in spot.
However, their brilliant form has allowed them to ease Thompson back in. There is no rush for the talents of the sharp-shooter, just yet. When Thompson returned to practice in November, many believed he would be making a comeback on Christmas Day at the Suns. Even though there is no set date for his return, it is expected that we will see the Warriors’ No 11 back in January.
Thompson reunited with Stephen Curry (right) will see the return of the ‘Splash Brothers’
The Warriors and Thompson reportedly want his long-awaited return to come at home. Steve Kerr’s side face the Miami Heat on January 3 – but that is potentially being earmarked as too soon. So instead one of January 9 against the Cleveland Cavaliers and January 18 against the Detroit Pistons are being circled instead.
It would be a new home court for the Thompson too with the Warriors moving from their Oracle Arena fortress in Oakland, California to their sparkling Chase Center in San Francisco after the 2019 NBA Finals. Nonetheless, the noise will be just as deafening as thousands of fans flock in to see the return of one of the top-five all-time greatest NBA shooters.
‘I don’t want to come back and be a shell of myself,’ Thompson said last month about his impending NBA comeback.
‘I want to come back like I was the last time I was playing and I was one of the best players in the world.’
Many don’t doubt that will happen and it makes the 26-6 Warriors a scarier prospect.
If things go as expected it certainly will be a happy new year for Thompson, Golden State and everyone connected with the NBA once this beloved character returns to the court.
The 31-year-old is one of the sport’s greatest-ever shooters and will only enhance Golden State