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Klay Thompson’s importance to the Warriors becomes obvious when he’s not there

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To understand why Thompson is such a valuable player, look no further than what happens when the Warriors don’t have him.

OAKLAND — You don’t miss Klay Thompson until he’s gone. Thankfully for the Warriors, Thompson is almost always around. He’s missed just 25 games in his eight-year career, a remarkable display of durability for any player, let alone a guard who is asked to score at a high rate while also defending the opponents’ top threat on the wing.

Until Wednesday night’s Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Thompson had also never missed a playoff game, a span of 120 contests. That’s the equivalent of an additional year-and-a-half of high-level basketball. Game after game, night after night, you knew Thompson was good for 20 points and 36 minutes of elite defense. No other Warrior had appeared in every playoff game during their run.

It’s easy to take that kind of low-key production for granted, which has been an ongoing theme throughout the Warriors’ run. While Thompson is a five-time all-star and two-time All-NBA (third-team) performer, he’s also their least decorated superstar. Steph Curry has the regular-season MVP’s, Draymond Green has a Defensive Player of the Year trophy, and Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala both have Finals MVP’s on their mantle. Thompson has rings and universal respect.

When Thompson learned he didn’t make the All-NBA team, thus costing him about $31 million in a new contract, he was clearly annoyed. It’s the nature of this roster that the third option won’t have as big a regular-season impact as a player like Kemba Walker, who is the only star on his team. His comeback was vintage Klay, telling reporters, “I’d rather win a championship than be third-team All-NBA.”

That task has become much harder than it appeared just a few weeks ago. Durant is out with an injured calf and invaluable big man Kevon Looney is also down with a fractured collarbone, yet Thompson was Golden State’s most notable absence in its Game 3 defeat.

After injuring his hamstring in the closing minutes of Game 2, Thompson had done everything he could to get back on the court. The Warriors publicly considered him a game-time decision, but they also made it clear they were also going to err on the side of caution. The Warriors chose the cautious approach, and he was clearly missed in a 123-109 loss to the Raptors.

“Never would have forgiven myself if I played him (in Game 3) and he had gotten hurt,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “So you live with the decision you make, you make a wise decision, the wisest one you can, and then you live with it and move forward.”

Thompson is expected to return for Friday night’s Game 4, in what is shaping up to be an extraordinary test if Golden State is to complete their three-peat. The Warriors wouldn’t panic if they went down 3-1, but even their uncommon resolve would be put to the limit if they needed three straight wins, including two on the road, to capture the series.

Without his fellow splash brother, Curry went off for 47 points in what may have been the best offensive game of his career, given the stakes. The Warriors clearly lacked a secondary scoring option who could have taken the pressure off Curry — the other Dubs were 6-for-22 from 3-point range.

But Thompson’s absence was most profoundly felt on the defensive end. He’s been tasked with the toughest of challenges, guarding both Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard in stretches. Without Thompson, the Raptors shredded Golden State’s defense, shooting 52 percent from the floor and going 17-for-38 from three-point range.

Lowry went off for 23 points and nine assists in a breakout Finals performance. Leonard, meanwhile, notched an efficient 30 points on just 17 shots. Neither player had to work as hard to get their offense going without Thompson hounding them, and Klay’s absence also set forth a domino effect that left the Warriors’ depth stretched thin.

The fact he has spent time guarding both a penetrating guard and one of the strongest forwards is the league is what makes Thompson such a versatile defender. You won’t find a more unique set of defensive assignments, which is exactly how Klay likes it.

“He’s got great versatility in terms of guarding people,” Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams said. “He’s got a great mindset. Klay thinks he can stop anyone. I doubt very seriously, other than making the adjustments he has to make given the skills contrast from one player to another, I don’t think he thinks about it that much. He just goes out there and does it.

“That to me is a real gift,” Adams continued. “He’s not like, ‘Oh I have to guard Leonard now?’ No. He wants to guard Leonard. He want to guard [Pascal] Siakam. It doesn’t matter to him. He just loves the challenge, especially guarding the guy with the ball. He lives for that.”

Some have described Klay’s mental approach as the triumph of an uncluttered mind, but it’s a little deeper than that. More than most people, Thompson is able to cut through the noise and focus on the things that matter. Whether it’s his big picture role in Golden State’s dynasty, or his on-court responsibilities.

“Well, I think I can impact Game 4 by doing what I do,” Thompson said. “That’s getting buckets and getting stops.”

We should all make our lives so uncomplicated.