In case you needed a reminder of just how unfair the Golden State Warriors are, Klay Thompson, who had been in a horrific shooting slump to start the season, en route to 52 points on Monday. He did this all in 26 minutes. The Warriors scored 92 points in the first half and 149 for the game, despite sitting their starters for the whole fourth quarter. Kevin Durant was plus-45 for the game. Stephen Curry shot 78 percent from the field. There is no way to extract even a shred of sense from these numbers.
And yet, the numbers aren't what was so impressive about this night.
The most impressive thing was watching the way the Warriors, first, supported Klay in making every effort to get him the ball at the expense of their own touches, and second, celebrated him in such a genuine way when he broke the record. Bear in mind, Curry previously held this record after dropping in 13 3s against New Orleans in 2016. You think Curry cares about that record more than seeing his struggling teammate make 26-minute mincemeat of it? Take a look at the bottom right corner of the highlight below. Notice who that is bumping Klay's man to get him open and then celebrating as the record-breaker goes in.
On the long list of attributes that make the Warriors historically great, chemistry is not at the top. First and foremost, the Warriors are jaw-droppingly talented. By just about any reasonable standard, they have two of the three best players in the world, and yet it's their third scoring option who is now the only player in NBA history to score 52-plus points in fewer than 30 minutes. Thompson has now done that twice, the other being his 29-minute, 60-point effort against the Pacers in 2016. Don't forget, this is also the man who scored an NBA record 37 points in a single quarter back in 2015 against the Kings.
Again, this is the Warriors' third option.
A better version of Reggie Miller is a third option.
The Warriors' talent is staggering.
But after that, what makes this Warriors team so special, so seemingly unbeatable, is the way all those talented players play not just with each other, but for each other. Two games ago, Curry hung 51 points on the Wizards. That same night, Durant posted 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists on 13-of-18 shooting. He was cooking himself. And yet all second half Durant was going out of his way to get Curry the ball. Everyone was doing the same thing for Thompson on Monday. A lot of teams say the right things about playing unselfishly, about not caring who gets the credit, but the Warriors embody these basketball ideals every minute they're on the court together.
On Monday it was Curry, the best shooter ever who has started the year on fire and would have every right to be hunting his own shot, who was setting screens for Klay and locking eyes on him in transition. It was Durant -- coming off a 41-point night against the Knicks in which he scored 25 fourth-quarter points -- who finished with eight assists. It was Draymond Green, who quarterbacks so much of the Warriors' offense, prioritizing Thompson over his two more heralded teammates. That's how this happens:
"The guys were just feeding him every time," Steve Kerr said after the game. "I think that's how much they care about Klay. I think they all felt for him because he's had a rough start to the season."
Indeed, Thompson was in a horrendous slump coming into Monday, having made just five of 36 3s on the year. That's 13 percent. That's unthinkable for a shooter of his caliber, even in a small sample. The Warriors knew Klay needed this, and they did everything they could do give it to him.
Durant talked about this kind of, shall we say, team-wide awareness shortly after he got to Golden State. He talked about how they play basketball differently. He's talked about how unselfish a star Curry is, that it's not an act, that he genuinely puts the team first and doesn't just talk the talk. Kerr has called Curry the Warriors' version of Tim Duncan in this way, the humble superstar who has gladly faded, if only slightly, into a No. 2 option as Durant has ascended to the go-to player with two straight Finals MVPs. You can count on one hand the number of players, throughout history, of Curry's caliber who would be willing to make such a compromise.
Relatively speaking, Thompson has been making the same kind of sacrifice pretty much his whole career. Again, this is the second-best 3-point shooter in history, no question. He could be a No. 1 option on a lot of teams. And yet coming into Monday's game, he was averaging under 41 touches per game. Curry came in averaging almost twice that. Draymond Green and Durant were both near 70 touches a game. Yet here's Klay, the second-best 3-point shooter ever, touching the ball -- not shooting it, just touching it -- less than one time for every two Warriors possessions.
Who puts up with that?
Klay does, and he's largely why this Warriors thing works so well. Yes, Curry has compromised, but he's still a star. Thompson, most nights, is a legitimate afterthought. He's secured himself as a perennial All-Star and has the endless respect of everyone around the league, but he's not seen as a superstar. He is fine with that. He plays his role, picks up for Curry on defense, makes the most of the relatively few times he touches the ball. Through everything, he just keeps playing. Never makes it about him.
Compare that to what's going on with Jimmy Butler and the Timberwolves, or this Wizards mess in Washington, where everyone is bad-mouthing each other off the court while hunting every individual play they can find on the court. And then they wonder why they aren't playing up to their talent level.
Chemistry counts for a lot. This summer I talked to Travis Schlenk, who is now the general manager of the Hawks but was in the Warriors' front office for more than a decade prior, and he raved about how well the Warriors got along, how much they really, truly like each other, and how that kind of genuine team chemistry is both rare and powerful. That's not to say you can't win without it, but it sure helps to have it.
Schlenk is now trying to build something similar in Atlanta. He got his Steph Curry in the form of Trae Young. The Hawks are running and shooting 3s across all five positions. During the preseason, Young told me one of things helping him most was the chemistry he was developing with guys, not just on the court, but off it: "That translates to the games," he said.
You can see the Warriors truly enjoy playing together, and for all the ways teams have tried to model their style of play after Golden State, it's the way they play together that makes is so hard to replicate.
"You could see they were force-feeding me the ball," Thompson said of his teammates in a post-game interview on NBA TV. "I'm just lucky to play with them."