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2017 NBA Playoffs

Warriors’ Klay Thompson aims to break out of shooting slump

Guard scored six points and went 0 for 5 on 3-point attempts in Game 1

The Golden State Warriors appeared to have a laid-back practice on June 3.

Stephen Curry kicked a basketball like a goalie as the Champions League final was going on at the same time abroad. Center JaVale McGee oddly practiced his corner 3-point shot while a teammate threw a well-timed basketball to knock one of his attempts off course. There was a lot of lighthearted fun, laughter and discussion.

Klay Thompson, however, was completely focused on his struggling jumper in a drenched-in-sweat T-shirt while taking shot after shot after shot at the Warriors’ practice facility. Thompson and the Warriors are confident he will break out of his playoff shooting slump in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Oakland, California.

“He’s been shooting well the last couple of days. It’s almost like normal Klay,” Warriors assistant coach Bruce “Q” Fraser told The Undefeated. “His ball goes through the net in a unique way … It looks to me like he’s shooting with lots of confidence and back to normal. I wouldn’t say he’s been struggling all playoffs, but it wasn’t as comfortable for him for whatever reason.

“He has been missing a little bit right and left, which is unusual for him. And also his ball hasn’t had the same trajectory.”

Thompson is expected to go down as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history one day, but his postseason performance has not been indicative of that distinction.

The 2016 NBA 3-point champion has shot 36.6 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from 3-point range this postseason. His shooting percentage ranks 85th out of 90 players with 50 or more attempts. He scored just six points after missing 13 of 16 field-goal attempts, including 0 for 5 from 3-point range, with no free-throw attempts in the Warriors’ 113-91 Game 1 victory over the Cavs.

Despite his struggles, Thompson said he won’t change his approach entering Game 2.

“Same one as Game 1, just be aggressive, don’t settle for good shots but hunt for great shots,” Thompson said. “Try to get a few quick ones early. That always helps. Just play hard and I’ll be fine.”

Thompson’s shooting and scoring struggles often bring up debate as to whether the addition of fellow All-Star Kevin Durant is the reason.

Thompson averaged 24.3 points per game, made 42.4 percent of his 3-pointers and nailed 4.1 3-pointers per game in the playoffs last season as the Warriors’ second option behind Curry. As the Warriors’ third option behind Curry and Durant this postseason, Thompson is averaging 13.8 points and hitting only 1.8 3-pointers per game.

Thompson quickly dismissed the possibility of Durant’s presence affecting his game for a Warriors team that is 13-0 in the postseason.

“Not at all,” Thompson said. “I hold myself to such a high standard whether I’m performing at my best every game [or not]. For me, it is easy to overlook my shooting woes when you’ve been winning like this.

“If we keep this up, it’s great. I can live with this all day. I’m such a perfectionist and I try to hold myself to such a high standard that as a competitor sometimes it does drive me to the edge to be better.”

Warriors general manager Bob Myers likened Thompson to a great baseball player trying to get out of a slump.

“I don’t feel a need to overreact to any of it,” Myers said. “It’s been great. I told him to have fun. It’s the NBA Finals. Make sure you have fun. We don’t know if we’ll be back here.

“It’s like a hitter with a great swing. They’re going to start hitting. I always tell him, ‘Don’t change anything. Just keep doing what you’re doing.’ ”

So, what is wrong with Thompson’s shot?

Thompson said his 3-point shot has been on line, but it is also veering to the right or left. Myers added that Thompson is “very competitive” and putting tremendous pressure on himself. Thompson is known for being tremendously hard on himself, which he acknowledged could be a good and bad thing.

“The good is you’re never satisfied, so you stay hungry,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t matter how well you have done this week. You have to always improve and take it to another level. The bad is probably being too hard on yourself sometimes. That leads to pressing, kind of questioning your ability.

“You have to have unwavering confidence because there are no shortcuts in this league. For me, whether I go through a shooting slump now or in the preseason, I just try to remember what I’ve done well in my career to get me to this point. It always helps.”

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) during the first half of Game 1 of basketball’s NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, June 1, 2017.

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

While Thompson is trying to locate his jumper, he has lived up to his reputation as one of the NBA’s best defenders this postseason. Thompson held his Cavaliers opponents to 1-of-12 shooting in Game 1 of the Finals. The only shot made against Thompson was a wild 3-pointer by Kyrie Irving that Thompson fouled him on. He has held opponents to 31 percent shooting this postseason, which is the best in the NBA on a minimum 50 shots defended.

“I just try to make it tough on my opponent, whoever I’m guarding,” Thompson said. “Make them earn the basket if they’re going to score. Play 48 minutes, not let down. To be a great defender, you have to have great will. So I just try to play with great will.”

Thompson first learned how to shoot a basketball and the game’s fundamentals from his father, Mychal, a former NBA forward/center. Klay Thompson said he perfected his jump shot during countless hours shooting outdoors as a kid. Thompson’s dad is optimistic his son will get his shot back on Sunday and offered some fatherly advice.

“Keep shooting,” Mychal Thompson told The Undefeated. “They all look good. They’ll go in. He is showing a lot of mental toughness. He’s not letting it affect the rest of his game, which is good. The ball is played on both ends.

“His shot still looks good. Every time it leaves his hand, I still expect it to go in.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.