Klay Thompson’s fight against time is the Warriors’ most riveting subplot

Klay Thompson is more than just a four-time NBA champion and one of the greatest shooters of all-time. To the Golden State Warriors, Thompson is a living legend, the beating heart of a dynasty both on and off the floor. Whenever Draymond Green’s hot temper threatened to unravel the Warriors, Thompson was always there as the cool and calm antidote, the three-point sniper who could bend an entire defense without touching the ball and dominate a game without dribbling.

Thompson’s journey back from a torn Achilles and torn ACL in consecutive years was one of the NBA’s most inspiring stories as Golden State somehow captured another championship in 2022. Two years later, age and the lingering effects of those injuries are proving to be a tough hurdle to overcome for Thompson and his team. Father Time is undefeated, and this year he’s taking the Warriors down with him.

The Warriors beat the Brooklyn Nets, 109-98, on Monday night. The win moves Golden State to three games under .500, and puts them one game out of the final spot in the Western Conference play-in race.

As the Warriors secured the win with a late fourth quarter push, Thompson was on the bench. Head coach Steve Kerr rode with Gui Santos, a rookie call-up from the G League, to close out the win. Thompson was asked about being benched in crunch-time — a recurring theme this year — and gave one of the most honest answers you will ever hear from a pro athlete.

“What they talking about — you didn’t play to finish the game?” Green yelled out to interrupt Thompson’s interview as it was going on. “I got benched Game 5 of the Finals. Who f—— cares?”

Thompson cares, and it’s clear from his face, his tone. He said he was happy for Santos and the other young Warriors players taking minutes away from him, but it’s easy to see this fight against time hasn’t been easy for him physically or mentally.

This is of course not the first time this year Thompson has confronted his own basketball mortality. Earlier in the year, when the Warriors still had real optimism and the younger pieces on the roster hadn’t yet proved their worth, Thompson was combative and resolute at the idea that his play was slipping. He was in denial, and he had to be to give himself a chance to still compete at the highest level.

It feels like Thompson has now moved to acceptance, at least in a way. At this point, being benched in crunch time isn’t anything new. Thompson is still a starter and still gets plenty of shot opportunities, but the shots aren’t falling like they used to. With the Warriors season on the brink, Kerr has decided to alter his closing rotations night to night based on who is playing well. Thompson’s four rings don’t make him an automatic closer anymore if he’s struggling.

Thompson has struggled lately. He’s just 4-of-25 from three-point range over his last three games. Over his last eight games, Thompson is shooting just 35 percent from the field. On the season, he’s putting up the lowest three-point percentage of his career at a shade better than 37 percent. That’s a solid mark for most players, but not for Klay. There are some nights where it feels like Thompson shoots Golden State out of games.

The Warriors are in survival mode right now. Curry is still brilliant and continues to prove he’s capable of being the best player on a championship team to this day. Unfortunately, the infrastructure around him has started to crumble. That begins with Thompson’s diminished play, and Green’s inability to avoid suspensions. It also includes a huge drop off from 2022 championship heroes Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins, who don’t even have age to blame for their slide. Everything that went right for the Warriors in 2022 is going wrong now.

Squaring up with Father Time is never a fair fight for an athlete. Thompson is an all-timer, and even he’s learning that the hard way this season. In the process, Klay has given fans a rare window into what the fall looks like with his incredibly transparent comments all season. It’s been wonderful to see. Thompson continues to confirm just how lovable he’s always been. His prime playing years may be over, but his legend is going to sustain in the Bay forever.

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