When Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors, nights like Monday are the ones many NBA fans and Golden State opponents feared. They were terrified of waking up, looking out their window and seeing a post-apocalyptic landscape in which the Dubs laid waste to opponents as they hoarded Hall-of-Fame talent. If the start to the current season is indication, the Warriors may finally be making those nightmares come true.
Against the Bulls on Monday, in a 149–124 win,Klay Thompson scored 52 points...on 29 shots...hitting an NBA record 14 threes...in only 27 minutes. That’s absurd. That’s what you do when you set 2K to the lowest difficulty setting and see how many points you can score with one person to help get your mind off a breakup. You see, the Warriors aren’t only special because of their egalitarian attack. Sure, they can kill you with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant each going off for 30 points. What makes them even more lethal is that players like Curry and Durant are willing to do the dirty work—set screens, whip the ball around the perimeter—to help their other legendary teammate go off. Even with his own record about the fall, Curry was still setting picks with vigor to free up Klay.
Thompson needed a night like tonight. He entered shooting only 5-of-36 on threes for the season, or a 14% conversion rate on shots from downtown. He shot 58% on threes against Chicago alone, nearly tripling his season output in under three quarters. It was embarrassing to watch the Bulls try to stop Thompson. He received open look after open look. When it was clear the record was in reach, the Warriors stopped pretending they would run their normal offense. The goal became to get Klay the ball on nearly every possession.
(I almost don’t blame Chicago’s defense. Do you want to be the defender who left Curry alone to help on Klay? Do you want to be the defender who sags on Durant in anticipation of a feed to Thompson? The Warriors left the Bulls with no options...but still, maybe after the 20th three-point attempt, you try to let someone else beat you?)
Golden State already seemed to be embracing their juggernaut mentality through the season’s first seven games. I wrote about this Monday morning—the Warriors are having fun, and we’re seeing their most consistent effort to dominate since Durant joined the team. The only thing holding the Dubs back—the term holding being used extremely loosely here—was Klay. Thompson hadn’t been his usual self to start this year. But Kerr said he was expecting a night like Monday night sooner rather than later, and now that it’s here, I’m not sure any team in the league has a recourse for an MVP-level Steph, averaging 30+ Durant, and Hot Klay.
This is what it looks like when the Warriors are committed to playing to their ceiling. One night, like the night before Klay’s explosion, Curry and Durant may decide to each go off for 30. The next, they may leverage their offensive gravity so Thompson can approximate basketball version of rain man. In the meantime, they’re going to develop guys like Alfonzo McKinnie and Jordan Bell. A month from now, the four All-Stars in the lineup may all play decoy so Boogie Cousins can remind everyone why he’s one of the league’s best centers. (I don’t want to forget Draymond Green, by the way. He, too, was instrumental in letting Klay cook Monday.)
Thompson’s 52 wasn’t just about him breaking out of his slump. I mean, we’ve seen it before. There are nights when his Bullet Time meter never depletes and there’s no defense in the known universe that can stop him. Thompson’s 52 shows what the Warriors can do when they are singularly focused on maximizing their talent on a night-to-night basis, and not taking a long-term view about saving it for the postseason. We aren’t even two full weeks into the NBA season, and we’ve already seen top-level performances from Curry, Durant and Thompson.
The Warriors appear to be fully living up to the hype placed on them in 2016, and at a more sustained level than we’ve seen in the past, at least during the regular season, and certainly never this early. We don’t even need to discuss what that means for the rest of the league. It’s the same as what they feared the moment this team was put together.