Warriors’ Klay Thompson erupts for 35 points in first game off the bench since 2012

The last time Klay Thompson came off the bench was March 2012. He was 22 then, an unproven rookie. Monta Ellis started ahead of him. Nate Robinson came off the bench beside him. The Golden State Warriors faced the LA Clippers. Chauncey Billups, now 47 and the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, was on that Clippers team.

Thompson was initially elevated to the starting lineup because of Stephen Curry’s ankle trouble and the Monta Ellis trade. That Clippers game was the final of Curry’s third season. He left after nine minutes and would sit the final month. By the time Curry returned the following season, Thompson was the entrenched starter. The Splash Brothers formed.

More than a decade later, Thompson’s streak of consecutive starts extended all the way to 727 games. It ended Thursday night in Utah, the prevailing story in the Warriors’ eventual 140-137 win.

Steve Kerr replaced his four-time NBA champion with Brandin Podziemski, a rookie who had outperformed Thompson recently and better completed the five-man grouping next to Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Jonathan Kuminga and Draymond Green, according to the data. When explaining the decision postgame, Kerr pointed to that lineup’s gaudy stats. They’ve outscored opponents by 57 points in 107 minutes.

Numbers indicated this move was rational and perhaps necessary. Thompson is shooting career lows from the field and from 3 this season. The Warriors are clawing for their postseason lives, entering Thursday with a 26-26 record, 10th in the Western Conference.

But that didn’t make the conversation simpler. Kerr said he’s been thinking about it for awhile and decided to do it Thursday, a night after Kerr kept Thompson out of the Warriors’ closing lineup again before inserting him as a floor spacer in the final minute and watching Thompson commit an intentional and ill-advised foul against the Clippers. He told Thompson of the decision on Thursday morning in Utah.

“He wasn’t thrilled about it,” Kerr told reporters. “I didn’t expect him to be thrilled about it.”

But what a response Thompson delivered. He came out scorching, putting up his highest point total of the season before the third quarter was done. He had 17 points in 11 first-half minutes, earning closing duties, which included a nice transition find in the final minute of the second quarter to Green, who finished with 23 points, his most since 2018. The Warriors scored 84 in the first half.

Thompson didn’t cool off after halftime. He scored 18 in a torrid third quarter, giving him 35 points. That’s where he finished, making 13 of his 22 shots and seven of his 13 3s, a vintage performance that helped the Warriors hold off the Jazz in a shootout despite nearly giving away another big lead late. Thompson also made a huge defensive play with 74 seconds left, stopping a Keyonte George drive and forcing a travel. It was Thompson’s best game of the season.

“The fuel that fed his competitiveness was the decision that I made,” Kerr said. “He’s such a competitor. I’ve seen him hit a million big shots. I’ve seen him guard the toughest guys in the league. Klay’s a champion. He’s an incredible player, great person. I’ve been blessed to coach him. It’s been a tricky season for him and for us. There’s a lot of transition happening. Some of our younger guys are coming on. It’s not as easy to do what Klay did five, six years ago, for him. I think this could be a good balance to get the best out of Klay and get the best out of our team.”

Kerr said he plans to keep Podziemski in the starting lineup and Thompson off the bench after the All-Star break, saying the move isn’t “permanent,” but he wants to give it a healthy look.

“Klay coming off the bench gives us a lot of firepower,” Kerr said.

(Photo of Klay Thompson: Alex Goodlett / Getty Images)