Klay Thompson, Jordan Ball’s fraternal bond was the secret to the Warriors’ success

BOSTON – Every hug and every embrace was special for its own reason as the final seconds of the clock ticked off Thursday night at TD Garden as soon as it became official that the Warriors were champions again, by defeating the Boston Celtics in six games during the 2022 NBA Finals.

Jordan Bull was one of the tallest and strongest, with his face resting on Clay Thompson’s right shoulder, the two wrapped their arms around each other. Ten years later, an unbreakable bond and a life of mentorship were shown under the crowning lights of achievement: 22-year-old Paul’s first championship and 32-year-old Thompson’s fourth championship.

Paul said after the post-match podium. “He is his own person, and in order to hug me at such a young age and take me under his wing, he teaches me his tricks and shows me that his scheme is really special, and I am happy to be a part of that.”

With a towel draped over him to soak up his festive champagne and his championship hat on top of his blue headband, Thompson sent a special message to reporters as he headed to the season’s final interview.

“Last interview at night,” he said. “Man, I hate interviews! But I’m glad to be here. Man, that’s cool!”

Paul has a 90-second rule for interviewing, which has vanished as his stature as a star grew. Clay taps the table and often looks away answering questions, even in his eleventh year as a professional, and season nine when he undoes the two years lost due to injuries.

It’s the last place they want to be some of the time. Thursday night in Boston, drenched in everything. As Paul said, Thompson could be himself. It is happiest in the water or on hardwood. Both are gym rats, though, and basketball junkies are always striving to take their game to levels many suspect they’ll reach at some point.

Steve Kerr tried to warn us in the off-season. After returning from the G League bubble in Orlando where he averaged more than 22 points per game, Paul, the former 28th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, returned as a brand new player for the Warriors last season. He averaged 5.5 points before playing 11 games with the Santa Cruz Warriors, and 14.7 after that. Last summer, Paul’s second home was the gym.

His work ethic was never in doubt after being drafted by the warriors. He also knew he could achieve more than he offered in his first two seasons as a professional. Turning work into results.

With Thompson continuing to battle his way back from his second of two tiring leg injuries, which saw him miss two and a half years from his start, Paul started his starting role smoothly this season. In the 32 games played–29 games–before Thompson’s January 9 comeback from a 941-day hiatus, Paul averaged 17.5 points per game. He scored 20 points in the season opener, reaching that number 11 times prior to Clay’s return, including four games in which he dropped at least 30 points.

“With his relinquishing earlier this year, just to be able to step into that role, show what I’m capable of, and you know, keep it until he comes back,” Paul said. “We started 18-2, and I think that just showed how talented we are.

“He taught me a lot.”

As it gets closer to Clay’s return, Kerr makes it clear that Thompson won’t come off the bench. He earned the right to hear his name in the starting lineup. This also sparked a false grumble of possible jealousy of Paul and trouble within the Warriors.

The truth is that even if Paul wanted to continue to run from the depths like all true competitors, any feelings of hostility were far from reality. Because of Paul’s rise this season, the dynamic between the two has taken on an even brighter light. This is nothing new for them.

Golden State drafted Paul one week after Thompson tore in the AFC Champions League in Game Six of the 2019 Finals. It was his first major injury and his new low on and off the field. There were countless dark days. For Paul, Splash Brother was a shining light when the Michigan producer was struggling.

Clay even saw a younger version of him when Paul was a rookie, trying to wet his feet at the Warriors who lost Thompson to injury, Kevin Durant on free agency and Steve Curry to injury four games a season. The Warriors finished the regular season with the worst record in the NBA. Thompson made sure he was there to pick up Paul when he needed him most.

“When it comes to Jordan, that’s my fortune,” Thompson told reporters after the Warriors won the Western Conference, defeating the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the Western Conference at Chase Center. “I remember a couple of years ago when he was going through a slump, he would have been really hard on himself. He reminded me of my younger self. I kept telling him, it would pay off for the little girl, she would play in the NBA Finals someday.

“I told him he was on the bench, the third game of the season when we got hit. He was going through it as a 19-year-old rookie. Now for it to come to fruition, I mean, I am very happy.”

Upon Thompson’s return, Paul was put on the bench. Well, at least half the time. Poole played 44 games after Klay returned to the fold, but the younger shooter started another 22 games with the Warriors preventing Thompson from playing back-to-back. Paul only got better.

He averaged 19.2 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from the 3-point range. He broke out in the first playoff game of his career, scoring 30 points in the first game against the Denver Nuggets and going on to average 17.0 points per game while shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from a 3-point range throughout the playoffs.

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Thompson played 32 regular season games after completing his comeback. He scored 41 points at the end of the season against the New Orleans Pelicans and scored 110 points over his last three games, averaging 20.4 points per game for the season. That gave him six consecutive seasons averaging at least 20 points per game.

He then featured a Game 6 Clay against the Memphis Grizzlies, scoring 30 points at the Chase Center to advance to the conference finals. Exactly 1,099 days after his return to the Warriors’ costume, Thompson was a four-time champion. Along the way, he called his shot with anticipation to Paul. Not only did Jordan play in the finals, he held a key to winning his first ring.

Both have been grinding through the gutters in each of the past two seasons, and the only thing is new bling on the other side. Their family-like fraternity silenced all the naysayers, and it ties the future of this Splash family.

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