Warriors vs. Spurs adjustments: How San Antonio can stop Klay Thompson

Ronald Martinez

Klay Thompson had a career game on Wednesday and led the Warriors to victory. How can the Spurs stop him? For starters, pay attention to him because he's playing a grown man's game.

Klay Thompson took over Game 2 in San Antonio, pouring in 34 points to lead the Warriors to a 100-91 victory. It wasn't just Thompson's barrage of three-point shots that set his performance apart. He played with control, and his decision-making and movement within the offense were incredible. The Spurs have to be ready for Thompson in Game 3 or he will manipulate their defense with ease again.

San Antonio's shortage of perimeter defenders is a problem. Tony Parker can't defend Stephen Curry, forcing their other two perimeter defenders -- Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard -- to guard him. That leaves Manu Ginobili or Gary Neal to defend Thompson, which is a mismatch that Thompson took advantage of like a veteran in Game 2.

Here, Thompson throws Neal into an invisible revolving door. Festus Ezeli makes a heads-up play by stepping in to screen the scrambling defender.


The Spurs are not going to get away with putting sub-par defenders on Thompson. There's no team defensive adjustment that they can make, as Neal makes such a horrendous individual play that it breaks San Antonio's defense. Gregg Popovich will have to get creative with his rotations to make sure that he has a defender for both Curry and Thompson on the floor at all times.

The Spurs knew they'd have to deal with the wizardry of Curry, who lit them up for 44 points in Game 1, but Thompson spreads their perimeter defenders thin. Neal did a poor job on Thompson, and Ginobili will be worn down with an array of cuts and screens.


Thompson's freedom on the offensive end wasn't just because of his individual play, though, as the Spurs were clearly overplaying Curry through the night. Notice how Ginobili was watching Curry during the inbounds as Thompson broke away.


The Spurs weren't expecting Thompson to take control of the game for Golden State, and they looked unprepared to adjust as Thompson roamed comfortably on offense. Here's another example of the Spurs, particularly Ginobili, being distracted by Curry on this inbounds play.

Ginobili positions his body to deny the inbounds pass to Curry, but Thompson throws it inbounds and breaks the opposite way for an open jumper. That was a well-executed play from a team that was prepared with options when the Spurs were busy taking Curry out of the game. The Warriors expected San Antonio to key in on Curry and responded accordingly.

Another problem for San Antonio is that they have to respect Thompson for more than his shooting ability. He can get to the rim or stop for a pull-up jumper when handling the ball.

If the Spurs are going to put poor individual defenders on Thompson, they have to provide help. Here, Neal fails to stay with Thompson as he takes a screen, and even with Tim Duncan challenging the shot, Thompson drains it.

On this off-ball screen, Leonard closes out too hard on Thompson, expecting a shot attempt. Thompson puts the ball on the floor and pulls up for an easy jumper with his defender out of position.

Given his size, it's inevitable that Thompson will find space from his defender. The Spurs need to limit the amount of times this happens, though, because once Thompson gets the ball with room, his defender is left off balance. The threat of his three-point shooting changes the way the defense plays him, but if the Spurs do a better job of keeping a body near him, he will have fewer opportunities to pick the defense apart.

Here, Thompson takes a screen from Andrew Bogut. Leonard is going to do a good job of recognizing the play and shooting over the top to stay with Thompson.



But Thompson doesn't put up a shot and curls into the lane, putting the Spurs into "no win" mode. There needs to be a help defender to step in front of Thompson, but the Spurs don't have defenders to spare. Duncan is closest, but has Bogut under the rim. Ginobili can also hedge into the paint to stop the drive, but either player shifting to help on Thompson will only create another hole in the defense.



While Thompson was great at getting dribble penetration from the perimeter, he was not great at finishing once he got to the basket. Thompson has the ball-handling ability to get to the rim, but his inability to finish consistently at the rim is a factor the Spurs should consider.


Thompson's shot chart screams "run me off the three-point line and force me to finish." On the other hand, it also shows how often he was able to get dribble penetration from the perimeter. Thompson has shot 60 percent at the rim, but only 28 percent from three to 10 feet out, via Basketball-Reference. The Spurs should force Thompson to play between the three-point line and restricted area.

Guarding Thompson while also providing coverage for Curry will be no easy task, but it becomes impossible when making rudimentary mistakes like losing Thompson in transition. This is an inexcusable breakdown that should never happen.

The Spurs can't use three defenders to watch one player dribbling up the court. Worse, it wasn't even Curry with the ball; it was Jarrett Jack. The Spurs have to make an active effort to stay with Thompson in transition and remain disciplined in their defensive fundamentals. Thompson is an elite three-point shooter having a career night. There's no excuse for losing him while he's spotting up in the corner.

(Of course, Thompson's shaky shot selection does still come into play sometimes. Just ask Curry, who watched in horror at the bottom right of this play while Thompson went into hero ball mode in transition).

We know, Steph. We know.


The Spurs are in a tight spot defensively and will be facing a roaring crowd at Oracle Arena on Friday. They cannot treat Thompson as an afterthought in Game 3 after he proved he can lead his team. It will take defensive focus and trust for the Spurs to stay fully aware of defending both Curry and Thompson, but they can't game plan to stop only one of them. Otherwise, it'll be another night of Mark Jackson telling himself "Mama there goes that man."

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