Returning to an Arena Near You: The Steph and Klay Show
Remember how much fun it was? We’ll help you out by reliving their performance for the ages in one of the NBA’s most memorable regular season games of all time.
There have been more than a few questions over the years about how much the NBA regular season matters, and they haven’t all come from Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless.
Turn on a talking head or two and surely you’ve heard some semblance of the following arguments:
- “It’s all a prelude to the playoffs”
- “The top seeds are almost always set in stone by February”
- “Teams are on cruise control”
- “Too many players spend too much time resting”
- “Unless we shorten the season, the blood feud between the Jokic brothers and the Miami Heat will lead to an international incident”
All compelling cases, for sure. And guess what? The earth is still spinning on its axis after two straight seasons in which no one played 82 games thanks to a global pandemic. When most people think back on those COVID-shortened campaigns, they’ll likely remember the Heat’s surprising run to the Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers’ first title with LeBron James, the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns exceeding playoff expectations, or Giannis Antetokounmpo’s postseason transformation into some combination of Shaq and Thanos.
In 2015-16, though, the regular season mattered in a way it hadn’t since M.J. and the Chicago Bulls were running roughshod over the league two decades earlier. The Golden State Warriors reached Basketball Beatles status, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson shooting the lights out in arenas across America as their squad went from possible playoff upstart to legitimate threat to dethroning Chicago’s 72-10 juggernaut from 1995-96 as the best regular-season team of all time.
A greatest hits album for that team would be easy to assemble. There was the 24-0 start, the 36-0 start at home, a 50-point win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Curry’s three 50-point games, Thompson’s 27-point third quarter against the Suns, the team obliterating the previous record for made 3-pointers, Draymond Green’s 13 triple-doubles and 12 technicals, Andrew Bogut’s lone 3 of the season (on his only attempt!) against the New Orleans Pelicans … the list could go on.
Whether the regular season magnificence caught up to them or Green just decided to take a swipe at the wrong superstar at the wrong time, the Warriors couldn’t stick the landing. Curry was worn down and banged up by the end of the seven-game NBA Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Thompson couldn’t help bail him out.
The last time Thompson played a meaningful basketball game was also a Finals heartbreaker – but that one doubled as a career changer. A game after Kevin Durant tore his Achilles, Thompson shredded his ACL in Game 6 and the Toronto Raptors celebrated on the Warriors’ floor just 14 minutes later.
Golden State’s dynasty was over. Durant departed for the Brooklyn Nets at the end of the month. Oracle Arena closed and the team crossed the Bay to move into San Francisco’s Chase Center.
The Warriors had the worst record in the league during that first season without him, then Thompson tore his Achilles just before the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season began.
The second season went better – Curry nearly carried Golden State to the playoffs before two play-in game losses – and the start of the third season post-KD and sans Klay has been a throwback to the dominance of that half-decade Finals run. The Warriors, who are tied for the best record in the league at 29-8, own the NBA’s best defensive rating (100.0) and second-best net rating (plus-9.6).
Curry is the leading contender to be MVP early in this 82-game slate, but Thompson’s return is just about the best in-season acquisition a team could make. These two have spent eight seasons and seven playoff runs shredding most of the defenses they’ve seen, and now they’re about to partner up for the first time in more than two and a half years.
Of all the rings and the records, though, there was one regular season night back during Golden State’s magical 2015-16 run that may have been more memorable than any. It’s the night Steph tied the then-NBA record for 3s in a game with 12 (a mark Klay now owns thanks to his 14 3 night in Chicago in October 2018).
It’s the night the Warriors became the first team to clinch a playoff berth in February since the 1987-88 Lakers. It’s the night Mike Breen nearly had an aneurysm from courtside excitement.
It’s the night Steph and Klay scored their most combined points ever.
Curry and Thompson had played in Oklahoma City a total of seven times heading into their matchup Feb. 27, 2016, and they’d lost six of them. Even the win left something to be desired – a 91-86 victory early in the 2014-15 season that Durant and Russell Westbrook both missed with injuries.
This was the last of seven straight away from home for Golden State, a stretch that began just before the All-Star break, but there was no time for complacency. Not only did the 52-5 Warriors have history in sight as they were slightly ahead of the ‘95-96 Bulls’ 72-win pace, but they needed to fend off the 49-9 Spurs for the No. 1 seed.
The Thunder were 41-17 with little pressure – they weren’t going to catch Golden State or San Antonio, but they had a pretty solid grip on the No. 3 seed. With a strong possibility of these teams seeing each other again down the road, this was a big one: Saturday prime time in a new national broadcast window that ABC had just introduced a month earlier, with four of the game’s biggest stars going head-to-head.
It looked like a dud early. Oklahoma City built a 28-14 lead late in the first quarter and led 30-20 after 12 minutes on the strength of 10 points from Durant. Curry had four points on just two shots, while Thompson went 2 of 6 and had six. Andre Iguodala was carrying the Warriors with eight.
Steve Kerr’s rotation back then usually put Curry on the bench for the first six minutes of the second quarter, but when Steph came back in, he was ready to shoot. He hit three 3s in 1:21 to pull Golden State within a point of the lead at 42-41. The Thunder responded, though, closing the half on a 15-5 run to take a 57-46 lead into halftime.
The Injury Scare
A 6-0 Warriors spurt to open the third cut the deficit by more than half, but the Bay Area had to hold its breath when Curry badly rolled his ankle on a drive to the basket before Westbrook stepped on it.
The Thunder lead only grew by two in the 5:20 Curry missed, with Thompson pouring in all 10 of his third-quarter points in the first 4:44 of the half. Curry returned at the 5:09 mark and hit three triples before the end of the third, the last giving the Warriors their first lead of the game, 78-77, with 1:22 remaining in the period.
It didn’t last long. Durant closed the quarter with two 3s of his own to help Oklahoma City retake the lead 83-78 heading to the fourth. KD had 10 in the first, 11 in the second and nine in the third. Curry had 11 in the second and third, giving him 25 points and seven 3s with 12 minutes left.
Curry got a nearly four-minute breather between the 9:57 and 6:07 marks of the fourth and, when he returned, it seemed like the Warriors had too much of an uphill battle. A Westbrook layup with 4:50 left made it 96-85 OKC and you could practically hear the collective sighs of relief from local news anchors across ABC’s nearly 200 affiliates nationwide. “This game’s not going to overtime and I’m going to do the thing that God put me on the earth to do: Have salon-quality hair and read the news.”
Unfortunately for those budding Ron Burgundys, Steph and Klay had other ideas. Thompson and Curry made layups sandwiched around a pair of empty Thunder possessions, then Curry splashed a pull-up 3 in Steven Adams’ face. “Curry from way downtown!” Breen gasped, but both MVP and announcer were just getting warmed up.
Green hit a free throw to pull the Warriors within three, then Durant knocked down a pair at the line to give Oklahoma City a 98-93 lead with 1:45 left. Curry wasted only a few seconds marching down the floor and pulling up for another 3, leaving Breen breathless and reducing the Thunder’s cushion to a single bucket.
Serge Ibaka ended OKC’s 0 for 7 drought with an 18-foot jumper, and just as soon as Thompson hit a 3 to cut it to one, Durant answered with a trey to push the lead back to four. It was 103-99 OKC, 14.5 seconds left and Breen pulled out a signature “BANG!” to let you know what he thought that shot meant for the Warriors’ chances of recovering.
After a timeout, Thompson drove to the hoop for an uncontested lay-in with 11 seconds left, and then things started to get really weird. Golden State trapped Durant in the corner and instead of using the Thunder’s final timeout, KD threw a desperation pass to midcourt. Thompson tipped it, Green saved it, and Klay found an open Iguodala, who needed to do something with just two seconds left. He still had time for a brief pump fake just inside the 3-point line, got Durant in the air and got a call with 0.7 seconds left.
Andre Iguodala was once a very good free throw shooter. He made 82% from the line on 7.3 attempts per game in his third year in the league with the 76ers back in 2006-07. By this point in his career, it was a very different story. He came into this game 46 of 75 (61.3%) from the stripe on the season, hadn’t been to the line that night and hadn’t even stood there once in his previous two games.
The man was Finals MVP the previous season for other reasons, but he came through twice. Durant bricked a long jumper after OKC used its final timeout, and this one went to OT.
KD Gets KO’d
A Westbrook and-1 followed by an Ibaka dunk gave the Thunder a 108-103 lead just 34 seconds into OT, but then the biggest play of the game happened. Curry drew a shooting foul on Durant, and for the first time in more than three years, OKC’s biggest star fouled out of a game.
Curry split the pair, then Green deflected a Westbrook pass on the ensuing possession, putting the ball in Thompson’s hands. Klay had one man in mind as he dribbled down the court.
An Ibaka layup on a beautiful find from Westbrook in the lane extended the OKC to three at 110-107, but then Curry did something to Kyle Singler that is illegal in at least 33 states and remote parts of the Canadian wilderness.
At this point you had to have hoped that Breen had a somewhat recent check-up with his cardiologist.
It was Thompson’s turn after a pair of Thunder baskets. Klay hit a 3 to pull Golden State back within one, then a minute later got an and-1 off a Green feed to even the score at 118 with 29 seconds left. Thompson absolutely hounded Westbrook at the other end, forcing an off-balance leaner, and Iguodala grabbed the rebound with just under seven seconds to play.
The Warriors had a timeout, but Kerr didn’t use it. It turned out to be one of his finest decisions.
Breen noted the timeout in Kerr’s pocket as Curry dribbled up the left side, but by the time he finished his thought, Curry was pulling up from a few feet past the Thunder’s logo at midcourt.
That one was Curry’s 12th 3 of the night, leaving Oklahoma City with just 0.6 seconds left to get its jaw off the floor. Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson seemed to be at a loss for words, and Breen was practically out of oxygen.
The Thunder, finally, were out of answers. Westbrook got a decent look at the buzzer but it came up short, giving Golden State a stunning 121-118 OT win in which it led for just 29 seconds late in the third and a fraction of a second at the very end of the extra session.
Curry finished with 46 and Thompson had 32, with their combined 78 still standing as three more than they’ve ever gone for together.
The Warriors won despite getting outrebounded 62-32, making them just the fourth team since the 1985-86 season to win with a minus-30 margin on the glass.
“It’s hard to put into words what Steph did,” Thompson, who finished 10 of 14 from inside the 3-point arc, said after the game. “It’s the most amazing thing I’ve probably ever seen.”
We can’t overlook Green amid the Splash Brothers’ brilliance. Draymond missed all eight of his field-goal attempts and finished with two points, but he had 14 rebounds, 14 assists, six steals and four blocks – a stat line that no one in NBA history has even come close to before or since.
He also reportedly went on a halftime tirade in the locker room, ripping his team for its play with the Warriors down 11.
Guess it worked.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan was asked after the loss if he’d ever been part of a game like this. Turns out the former Kentucky assistant had, and please don’t ever bring up Christian Laettner again.
It was almost three months to the day that Donovan’s heart would be broken once again – this time by Thompson. The Warriors and Thunder went on to meet in the Western Conference finals, which Oklahoma City led 3-2 heading into a closeout opportunity at home in Game 6.
Klay scored 19 of his 41 points – including five of his then NBA playoff-record 11 3-pointers – in the fourth quarter, helping the Warriors overcome an eight-point deficit in the final period to force a Game 7 with a 108-101 win. Curry finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, then the duo combined for 13 3s two nights later to send the defending champs back to the Finals in what turned out to be Durant’s last game in Oklahoma City.
The exclamation point never came for the record-setting Warriors, with Golden State’s 3-1 lead in the championship series wiped out by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a historic comeback. It definitely did not lead to “hey u up” texts from Green to Durant in the parking lot after Game 7, say sources named Green and Durant, but KD came anyway and two of the next three NBA titles followed.
Durant’s back east now, and for Golden State it’s about to be the Curry and Thompson show once again. Can they recapture the magic that revolutionized what winning meant in the NBA?
It’d be hard to bet against them. The Warriors still have the infrastructure and the supporting pieces for their two sharpshooting stars to carry the load en route to another title.
Banners fly forever, and legends are written in June – not the middle of winter in flyover country. But one wild February night in Oklahoma City told the story of what Steph and Klay are capable of doing together better than any.
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Graphic design by Matt Sisneros