Klay Thompson averaged 20 points a quarter last night. He finished the third quarter with 60 points on an absolutely incendiary 21/33 shooting, including 8/14 from beyond the arc. He had only played 29 minutes to that point.
But his night was over. Steve Kerr, Thompson’s coach, benched him for the fourth quarter, presumably knowing that his team was both comfortably ahead and not in a position to risk injury to any of its Big Four. But Kerr also benched him because he is apparently an ahistorical killjoy who hates fans.
To put Thompson’s binge into proper perspective, it is worth noting that NBA players have scored 60+ points 56 times in league history. If Wilt Chamberlain’s 32 times having done it are dropped, that number drops to 24 times. By the time that list’s other big men have been excised, there were only nine guards to have ever scored 60+ points in a game before Thompson’s night last night: Allen Iverson and Gilbert Arenas (60), Tracy McGrady (62), Jerry West (63), George Gervin (63), Pete Maravich (68), Michael Jordan (69, nice), David Thompson (73), and Kobe Bryant (81). To put Thompson’s scoring into additional perspective, Tom Haberstroh observed* that before last night’s supernova, Larry Bird’s 43 points represented the league’s scoring record in an equivalent number of played minutes.
Because Thompson had 60 points after three quarters, and because he was shooting absurdly well, it seems reasonable to believe that he had a legitimate shot at doing (considerably) more in a wide-open fourth quarter against an Indiana Pacers team that had, with all due respect, simply given upon on being competitive.
Projection is a fool’s game given the vagaries of sport. But if he had been given even half a quarter’s worth of run, Thompson might have passed McGrady, West, Gervin. If he was still hot, he might have snuck by Maravich and Jordan too. Scoring 70+ points turns Thompson – already one of the game’s greatest ever shooters – into an absolute legend. Only five players have ever scored 70+: David Robinson, Elgin Baylor, Thompson, Bryant, and Chamberlain.
And nobody anywhere is advocating that Thompson deserved the Robinson treatment. Robinson’s 71-point binge came on the day’s final season in a blatant attempt to win the 1994 scoring title, and featured a fourth quarter in which the Spurs were instructed to intentionally foul the Clippers so that Robinson could get a few more shots.
What Kerr did was deprive not only Thompson of his opportunity for immortality but deprive the game’s fans of an opportunity to witness history. It can be easily argued that Kerr does not receive a paycheck to concern himself with either – and that would be a very fair response – but on the other hand, come on. This would not have been Ricky Davis shooting on his own basket to get a triple-double; this was a player’s opportunity to approach the precipice of his own potential withering away on the bench instead.
There is obviously no fixing it now. What is done, as they say, is done. But be aware that it is unlikely that we will ever see Thompson do again what he just did. It is an absurdly rare event that factors come together in precisely the way that they did against last night, and rarer still that they involve a player in a position to fully maximize them.
*Thanks to @CK_MacLeod for providing Haberstroh’s tweet.