We didn’t realise it at the time, at least those of us without an encyclopaedic knowledge of the minutiae held in the NBA record annals. We didn’t realise it as it was happening, and perhaps we don’t really understand it now, after the fact. When the Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson made his first third quarter field goal, a stop-and-pop jumper from mid-range, we were unaware that what was to follow would land a hammer blow to the history of the game, and would shatter the previous conceptions of single-quarter greatness. 10 minutes later, young Thompson was up amongst the Titans of the NBA. In this particular historical category, he stands above them all now, above Wilt and Kareem, above Michael and Kobe, above West and Magic, above Lebron and KD; they all look up to the Warriors shooting guard, squinting into the heavenly glow of his reverence, allowing his dazzling radiance to warm their faces. That’s just how hot Klay was; blinding, like a virtuoso supernova exploding before you, and yet we were all transfixed, eyes glued to every one of those perfect jump-shots. To look away would be to ignore history in the making.
We can, at any moment that we choose, open the dusty volumes of the sport, slide a finger down the page (enjoying is passing the weathered snugness of the parchment) and see that Wilt Chamberlain finished a season averaging 50 points a game (1961-62). We might, if the mood takes us, flip through a little further and see that Michael Jordan finished with a career average of 30.1 points per game (No. 1 all time). We could peruse Kareem’s points total (38387), or take the opportunity to wax lyrical about the dominance of Shaquille O’Neal. Reading these numbers on a page conjures up a buttery lump in the throat, such is the Herculean scale of these achievements. At the dewey-eyed crescendo of admiration, we close the book, give the crinkled binding a maudlin caress, and turn on the television to numb us back to emotional comfortability. But even here, in the untinted present, we witness things like, only a few months ago, Kobe Bryant passing Jordan on the all-time NBA scoring list, or, two seasons ago, when Stephen Curry broke the record for made 3-pointers in a single season. It’s events like this that force us to register the historical import of the giants that walk among us, and the mythological champions in whose footsteps they themselves tread.
And it makes Klay’s record-breaking third quarter performance against the Sacramento Kings all the more colossal. The 37 points he scored, lodged in 10 minutes or so, was 4 points more than previous record, jointly held by George Gervin and Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is a current superstar, albeit one wasting his peak years in a Knicks franchise currently with the worst record in the league. He scored 33 points in the third quarter of a 2008 game against the Timberwolves, while playing for the Denver Nuggets. Gervin, ‘The Iceman’, is a Hall of Famer, a man who retired in 1986 with a career average of 25.1, more points than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone finished their careers averaging. His 33 point haul came in 1978, against New Orleans. His and Anthony’s record was the previous benchmark for concentrated points of light, for fleeting spells so white hot that, like a fireworks display, they can only be sustained for minutes at a time. One of the plagues of basketball is that hot streaks can be doused with tactically used timeouts. Usually, it works, and hot hands are cooled by the pause. Not this time.
Sacramento tried to stop what was coming. Head coach Michael Malone used his timeout valiantly, but he resembled a man holding up a trembling sheet of paper towel when faced with an onrushing tidal wave. It did nothing to stop Thompson, who scored 19 straight points during one stretch. He outscored the entire Kings team during the quarter, 37 to 22. He was involved in every Warriors field goal during the quarter, assisting Draymond Green’s lay up, scoring the rest himself. He broke the record for three-pointers made in a single quarter, with nine. His 13 for 13 field goals equalled David Robinson’s record for made FG’s in a quarter. There was literally nothing the Sacramento defence could do to stop Thompson; one of his shots was made while draped in a Kings triple-team. He shot from way behind the three-point line, he drove to the basket, he hammered down an alley-oop, he made shots from the key. The 52 points he amassed for the game were snatched in just 32 minutes, making him only the second player after Kobe Bryant in the last 30 years to score more than 50 in 32 minutes or less.
This is, of course, a fabulous, needlessly emphatic reminder of just how good a player Thompson is. He is yet another example of how a athlete with noteworthy physical gifts (in Thompson’s case; size), first-rate defence, and reliable shooting can suddenly go from NBA middler, to full blown max contract contender. Jimmy Butler’s explosive progress this season is another. Thompson used to be known as a gun shooter, and an excellent wing defender, but not much more. His size, and the physical awareness that comes with three-and-a-half seasons of good NBA minutes, have suddenly made him a terrifying force when driving to the basket, and a dominant post player against undersized match-ups. His ever-consistent shooting makes him one of the most dangerous perimeter threats in the league, and, if not for Draymond Green’s remarkable defensive surge this season, it would be Klay guarding the opposition’s most dangerous player. When it comes to two-way guards his age, Klay is virtually unrivalled.
Bob Myers, the Warriors General Manager, must be feeling particularly smug at the moment. “It’s a blessing to have the deal I got, and I’m going to do everything I can to go out there and prove I’m worth it.” This is what Thompson said when he signed his four year, $70 million dollar contract extension in November. The securing of Thompson is looking now, in the empyrean light of obliterated records, like a masterful piece of business. And to think, Thompson was being spoken of by some as a makeweight in a potential deal for Kevin Love, who’s currently struggling horribly in Cleveland. Not that anyone who had played with Thompson were supporting this as a wise decision: “I’ve never see a team rally around a player so much to get him paid,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said [upon Thompson signing his extension]. “It says a lot about Klay and what he means to this franchise.”
Last night, his team mate and fellow Splash Brother Curry, could only laugh.
Klay’s father, Mychal Thompson, was watching on, no doubt fit to burst with pride.
Draymond Green, up till now the Warriors’ biggest story this season, struggled for words when asked about Thompson’s feat after the game.
And here’s what it sounded like in Oracle Arena.
So, here it is: the greatest single-quarter performance in the history of the NBA. Bravo.