By JANIE McCAULEY
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Everyone knows about Klay Thompson’s ability to get dangerously hot in a hurry on offense.
His stingy defense might just be the thing that matters most when he returns for the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday night with his team trailing Toronto 2-1.
“We can’t fall into the trap of thinking offense alone is going to win us another championship or letting that end of the floor affect our defense,” Stephen Curry said on the heels of a postseason career-best 47-point performance in the Warriors’ Game 3 defeat.
Thompson is scheduled to play Friday barring any further issues with his strained left hamstring after he sat out the 123-109 loss Wednesday, while Kevin Durant remains sidelined as he attempts to work back from a strained right calf.
With the way Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Danny Green delivered time and again for the Raptors to answer every big shot by Curry, Thompson’s defense will be a key part of the two-time defending champions’ adjustment as they try to even the series at home before another trip to Toronto.
“People fall in love with his shooting and how hot he can get on the offensive end, but the way that our team plays defensively and the chemistry that we have and the experience, he’s right at the forefront of that,” Curry said. “And it’s a tough adjustment when guys who haven’t been in that position consistently and in these type of moments are thrown into his minutes. So you would love to have him out there on that end of the floor as well, especially with a team like Toronto.”
Thompson, who was injured late in Golden State’s Game 2 win at Toronto, even surprised the Raptors when he didn’t take the court for tipoff.
The Raptors still had him on the board to play when the team left the locker room just before game time.
Not facing Thompson became a key advantage and all five Toronto starters scored in double figures — and Curry was forced to take on a greater load.
“He’s a great defender. I think he’s one of the best, right up there at the top of the best wing defenders in the league,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Thompson. “He’s probably underrated in that department. He really puts in some awesome defensive performances for them, especially when they really need them.”
Here are some things to watch for Friday night:
WARRIORS INVESTOR SUSPENDED
Warriors investor Mark Stevens was banned by the NBA for a year and fined $500,000 for shoving Lowry and directing obscene language toward him early in the fourth quarter Wednesday.
“He shouldn’t be a part of our league. There’s just no place for that,” said Lowry, who confirmed Thursday that there were obscenities directed at him.
Support poured in for Lowry’s handling of the incident, including a text message from LeBron James.
“I was furious, I’m not going to lie,” Lowry said.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr personally apologized to Lowry and the Raptors, calling Stevens’ behavior “unacceptable.”
Draymond Green applauded Lowry’s calm response.
“You have to give Kyle a lot of credit in the way he handled it,” Green said. “You’re playing in the NBA Finals, so your emotions are running high. For him to handle it the way he did says a lot about his character, a lot about him as a man and the way he handles himself. That was great to see.”
THEY’VE SEEN IT ALL
Last season, the Warriors had to win Game 7 of the Western Conference finals on the road in Houston. They triumphed with an ailing Kerr sidelined for much of the 16-1 title run in 2017.
This fifth straight NBA Finals has brought on its own challenges, most notably all the injuries.
“Our best basketball is usually played when our backs are against the wall,” Green said.
Durant wasn’t going to get on the court in a scrimmage situation Thursday as the Warriors had initially thought, but might do so as soon as Friday or Saturday with the hope he still could return before the finals are done.
“There was no setback. I was hoping that today would be the day when he could get out on the floor,” Kerr said. “It’s not going to be today.”
Durant, the two-time reigning Finals MVP who was averaging 34.2 points this postseason before the injury, was hurt in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Rockets on May 8. He has missed the eight games since.
FAREWELL TO ORACLE
Oracle Arena really is on its last hurrah. Friday night’s Game 4 is the only remaining guaranteed contest at the arena before Golden State moves to the new Chase Center in San Francisco next season.
The Warriors might need an even more deafening response from the loyal home fan base.
“We’re going to miss it here for sure,” Kerr said. “We’re looking forward to the new arena. It’s going to be amazing, but we’ll always miss Oracle.”