CHICAGO — When the first of 14 left Klay Thompson’s right hand, nobody rose.
Not yet, anyway.
Over the next hour and a half, a historic hour and a half, they would do plenty of rising. They would shake their heads in astonishment at an awe-inspiring Golden State Warriors first half. They would erupt throughout the most prolific 26 minutes and 33 seconds of 3-point shooting the league has ever seen.
But for now, butts stayed glued to seats. On the Warriors’ bench, and throughout a Warriors jersey-speckled United Center. Because Klay Thompson, for almost two weeks, had been frigid.
Because Klay Thompson, in the words of his body-language-reading head coach, Steve Kerr, had been getting “down on himself.” He was “frustrated.” He had made just five 3-pointers in seven games to start the season.
But the Warriors knew. The world knew. The explosion was coming. As Kerr said, “It was just a matter of time.” On Monday night, time ran out. And the Chicago Bulls – the poor Bulls – were helpless.
By the time No. 2 of 14, off a pin-down screen from the right wing, found nylon, bench chairs were unnecessary. When No. 3 glided through, Andre Iguodala was already boomeranging around cameramen stationed on the baseline. The avalanche was coming.
When 6 of 14 was at the top of its arc, Iguodala’s hands were already skyward, three fingers on each outstretched. With No. 7 still in the air, Steph Curry was prancing toward the basket from the bench. Minutes later, he turned around toward the crowd, as if No. 8 had been a foregone conclusion.
“I like to go back and watch film to try to figure out how to get better,” Curry would later say. “Tonight, it’ll be watching everybody’s reaction on every single shot that Klay made. That’ll probably be pretty entertaining.”
The barrage was uncontainable, irrepressible, a symphonic masterpiece starring Thompson but not exclusively Thompson. He hit 10 first-half threes, tying an NBA record. The Warriors, as a team, poured in 92 points in the first two quarters, a mark only once surpassed, by the 1990 Phoenix Suns. Chicago had 50.
At halftime, disbelieving stadium employees marveled: “We’re seeing history.”
One, as he strode back toward the court for the wholly unnecessary third and fourth quarters, turned to Kerr: “I been watching this sport for 50 years ….” Any number of awestruck statements could have finished the sentence.
And Draymond Green, while dapping up a security guard, flashed a tellingly sheepish grin, feigning discomfort, almost cringing in jest at the beatdown he was both witnessing and taking part in.
Klay kept going, even after smashing heads with teammate Damian Jones “like a couple of idiots” early in the third. With blood trickling down his forehead, he canned Nos. 11 and 12. During the timeout, while trainers worked on the cut, his teammates crowed: “Two more! Two more!” They knew.
Kerr, unaware of the looming record until that point, turned to Steph: Do you have the record? Curry confirmed he did – 13 threes on Nov. 7, 2016, against the New Orleans Pelicans.
But he had no interest in holding it much longer. He, like the rest of his teammates, catered to Klay at every opportunity. They set screens whenever possible. They fed him in transition. Curry passed up a fast-break layup for what could have been Thompson’s 14th, but it rimmed off. Another rainbow for No. 14 went awry soon thereafter, and as nine players raced toward the other end, Thompson crept for a second in the other direction, staring off into the distance, as if in his own fantasyland, unable to process momentary failure.
“I was just so anxious to get the record,” he’d later say.
He hit Nos. 13 and 14 with a bandage and headband stemming the bleeding. Kerr told him he looked like Slick Watts. Thompson, Kerr realized, probably didn’t know who that was.
Klay, instead, felt like Jackie Moon from Semi-Pro. “One of my favorite characters in all sports movies,” he said postgame. “That’s probably why I broke the record.”
Or maybe it was because of Kevin Durant? “The most important thing about tonight was that I passed it to him for his 14th three,” Durant joked. “I knew I got the magic touch, so when I throw him the rock, he’s going to knock it down. The other guys, they ain’t got the right mindset when they trying to get that assist.”
Said Curry: “I was the best screen-setter out there.”
Durant also claimed it was he who had provided Curry with an assist on No. 13 a little less than two years earlier. Unfortunately, he was wrong; Green did.
But there was one parallel that exemplified the Warriors’ unparalleled dynamism. The game before Steph hit 13 in less than 36 minutes, he had gone 0-for-10 from deep. Thompson, previously 1-of-9 on the road trip, hit 14 in less than 27 minutes. He scored 52 points in all, the second 52-in-less-than-30 game in NBA history. The first? It, too, belongs to Klay Thompson.
Shortly after the historic 14th went splash, Thompson exited stage left, back to the locker room to get two stitches above his eye. Green was right behind him. This, mind you, with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Only four active players remained on the Warriors bench. Curry sat next to coaches, a towel over his head. Durant lounged, his freakishly long legs crossed and extended, before he departed with three minutes remaining. Onlookers made pleas for a running clock.
Thompson was not seen again until he emerged from the locker room in a green sweatshirt and jeans, a new bandage above his brow. He spoke for a few minutes here, a few minutes there, equal parts relieved and (typically) unemotional. Then he exited for good, his jersey wrapped in a plastic bag as one keepsake. He couldn’t resist dribbling the other, a game ball, by his side and through his legs as he headed for the loading dock.
Fans – Bulls fans, Warriors fans, Splash Brothers fans – clamored for every glimpse of history they could get. They cheered Thompson as he emerged.
Earlier, they had lined the tunnel as Curry, this time a supporting actor, left the court. Children shrieked, their parents bellowing on their behalf, when all of a sudden — thud.
A kid, so desperate for a piece of Curry, had tumbled over the railing and fallen to the floor. He was ushered back into the stands, but not until procuring one of Curry’s signed shoes. Anything for a relic from a special night.
Kerr, at times, had sat back in awe, just like those thousands of admirers. On one hand, the two hours were unlike anything he had seen before. On the other, it was not the first time his player had broken a 3-point record; not the first time they’d ripped a young, threadbare opponent to shreds.
It felt, Kerr said, “like Year 5 of coaching the Golden State Warriors.”
Said Durant of the two protagonists: “It’s only fitting that those two hold the records. Best shooters to ever walk the earth. And probably nobody will ever shoot like those two ever again.”
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