SALT LAKE CITY — Klay Thompson wears his new title easily, even on the slow nights. Like, for instance, Friday.
He’s an All-Star now, for the first time in his career. So he sat in repose at his locker, hands on his knees, before the Jazz’s 110-100 win over Golden State. The subject he was asked to address was (surprise!) shooting, a week after he redefined what a player can do in 12 minutes.
Thompson said he gets a feel for a good game during warm-ups. That’s what happened against Sacramento, when he scored 37 points in the third quarter. But aren’t there times when he thinks he’s going to shine, but stalls?
“Yeah, all the time,” he said. “That’s the nature of beast. So I try to tell myself to be great every pregame warm-up. It helps.”
Sometimes more than others.
Thank you, Gordon Hayward.
Friday was Thompson’s second appearance in Salt Lake this year. Last time, he was a fine player on the league’s most entertaining team. Now he’s a genuine phenomenon. A historic game does that. Last week against the Kings, he broke the record held by legendary George Gervin, who scored 33 in a quarter in 1978.
Yet Jazz fans in Salt Lake have yet to see that Thompson in person. On Jan. 13 at EnergySolutions Arena, he had a modest 12 points in 26 minutes in a Golden State win. This time it was a dozen points in 31 minutes, thanks largely to the Jazz relentlessly stalking him with Hayward and anyone else who cared to chime in.
That didn’t deter Warriors coach Steve Kerr from declaring his player a gift.
“I would call him a complete player,” Kerr said. “Excellent defender, one of the best scorers in the league. He seems to be getting better every night.”
Well, almost every night. Thompson followed his 52-point game against Sacramento with games of 31 and 30 points. On Friday, he made a nice percentage (5 of 10) but couldn’t shake free for anything consistent. It wasn’t the performance Jazz fans expected.
“It’s cool just to have the label ‘NBA All-Star,” he told reporters earlier this week. “It means you are among the elite in the world.”
Basketball fans figured as much after the Jan. 23 game when he went all Gervin.
To opponents’ dismay, subdued nights such as Friday are rare for Thompson. His 23-point average is highest on the team. Though the scoring gets him noticed, recent additions have turned him from a good player into a star. At 6 foot 7, he can overpower opposing guards. This year in particular he has resurrected his college game by driving more often. He can nail the pull-up, swish the fadeaway, drive to the rim or sink the leaner, making him the basketball version of a Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain drink machine: The choices are many.
To make it criminally unfair, he is also a serious defender.
“He’s playing with so much confidence,” Kerr said beforehand. “He’s so big and strong, and you have to remember, he can get to places to create shots for himself. I think that’s where he’s made a lot of improvement — not settling for long, difficult shots, getting into the paint, little pull-up jumpers, getting to the basket, getting fouled. ... So even on a night he doesn’t have it going, he’s still going to get points.”
Which made it all the more impressive the Jazz pulled off a win. They never let him find a cadence, when a week prior he was grooving like a Jazz singer, making all 13 shots, including nine treys.
"I'm sure there are shots he took that he didn't even remember until he saw the highlight video," Gervin told the San Jose Mercury-News. "He was in a place very few people are able to get to."
An incredibly happy place, on a perfectly blissful day.
“They didn’t come that often for me,” said Kerr, who actually shot 45 percent from 3-point range as a player, “but they seem to come every night for Klay.”
Not on Friday. Thompson missed all three 3-point tries, as he spent the game avoiding Hayward and his backup big men.
"It was an all-around effort by everybody," Hayward said.
The feeling of a good game is elusive beforehand.
Afterward, it’s 100 percent.
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