Thornton vs. Kesler promises heavyweight battle


Thornton vs. Kesler promises heavyweight battle

Tim Panaccio

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Joe Thornton doesnt drop the gloves very often.

He has all of 24 career fights in 13 years in the National Hockey League, according to

So what was going through his mind in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final when he asked Ryan Kesler to fight on the opening faceoff, after he got tossed out for trading head butts?

You channeling Dave Schultz there?

No, I'm not that tough, Thornton replied, laughing. Let's fight. Let's start the series off with a bang. That's about it.

It seems a bit disingenuous. Thornton isnt a fighter. Hes been under the microscope his whole career -- especially in the playoffs the past two years -- as a player who doesnt need to score more goals. He's expected to get his team to the Stanley Cup Final by making a difference.

Hes been in a few scraps, teammate Ben Eager said. Joes a big guy. When he gets fired up, I dont know if Id like to be fighting him. Hes got long reach and hes a strong guy."

And of the matchup with Kesler?

I didnt know what they were going to do with each other," Eager said. "Thought maybe theyd head butt each other for five minutes.

And what did Sharks coach Todd McLellan think?

That's between two players on the ice, McLellan said. That's where it stays.

You cant create toughness in a series. You have to bring it.

Chances are, Thorntons actions were premeditated like they were two years ago in the playoffs during Game 6 at Anaheim.

Thornton took the opening faceoff against the Ducks Ryan Getzlaf and dropped the gloves immediately.

Kesler said he laughed at the idea of throwing down with Thornton.

He asked me to fight and Im not going to engage in that, said Kesler, whos been wearing a face that blares intensity for days now and saw no humor whatsoever in the topic. He can talk all he wants. He wont get anything from me ... It takes energy away from you, too.

Obviously, Thornton wanted to get Kesler off his game right away. Kesler had an assist in Game 1, while Thornton scored a goal.

Hes smart, Kesler said. He uses his size to protect the puck. Once he gets position, you cant move him. Its useless. You have to worry about his stick then and go from there.

Thornton said there isnt much of a rivalry, even if you go back to 2010 Olympic Games, with Kesler on Team USA in the gold medal game against Team Canada.

Yeah, I don't know if it was a rivalry really, Thornton said. I don't really recall playing against him in the past, to be honest with you. I think just this year. He's competitive. I like playing against competitive guys. Yeah, it makes you elevate your game. You want to win every inch out there. It's a great battle all series long.

And maybe before this series ends, theyll have a go at it when it really means something.
Tim Panaccio is the NHL Insider for E-mail him at

Azubuike: Paul George 'definitely put in a call to Klay Thompson'

Azubuike: Paul George 'definitely put in a call to Klay Thompson'

Paul George can become a free agent in 2018.

Klay Thompson is scheduled to hit free agency a year later.

Might they be future teammates with the Lakers?

"He's (George) definitely put in a call to Klay Thompson, and obviously he feels like Klay Thompson is a guy that he would love to play with in the Lakers," NBC Sports Bay Area Warriors analyst Kelenna Azubuike said on 95.7 The Game on Tuesday morning. "Now, for all we know, Klay could have said, 'Buzz off, I'm staying with the Warriors.' It doesn't really mean much that he put in a call. They probably had a nice conversation.

"Maybe they even talked about something other than basketball, and didn't talk about basketball at all. Who knows. It doesn't really mean much, but he's definitely put in calls to Klay Thompson; he's talked to LeBron James and he's trying to see if he can figure out who can come with him to the Lakers."

George reportedly told the Pacers he isn't going to stay with the franchise long-term and Indiana is currently looking to trade him before he has the opportunity to walk.

George -- who grew up in Los Angeles -- wants to suit up for the Lakers.

Klay is entering Year 3 of a 4-year, $69 million deal.

If he continues to play at his current level, he will absolutely be in line for a max deal when his contract is up.

A lot can change between now and then, but one thing is clear at this point: Klay doesn't want to go anywhere.

“At the end of the day, I’ve tasted winning,” Klay told Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group at the championship parade. “No stats can ever overcome that. I’d rather win these championships and score no points than have 60-point games and 37-point quarters. These championships are everything to me...

"It’s so much more to being part of a team and being part of something special. You can build a legacy ... the thing with basketball these days, there’s a lot of individuality with stats, numbers, Who’s the greatest, he’s a better player than him, he put up this many points.

"But Steve (Kerr) helped me a lot with that. He said nobody is going to remember how many points you put up. They are going to remember how many championships you win."

Klay was born in Los Angeles, grew up rooting for Kobe Bryant and went to high school in Southern California.

His father, Mychal, won two titles with the Lakers.

"But I doubt, I highly doubt that Klay Thompson will end up leaving the Warriors," Azubuike added.

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders and a Web Producer at NBC Sports Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller

Dorell Wright knew Steph and Klay would be this good because...

Dorell Wright knew Steph and Klay would be this good because...

Dorell Wright played for the Warriors in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

He spent a lot of time with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. 

Did he think they would end up being this good?

"Yeah. I seen it because they put the time in, they put the work in," Wright told Alex Kennedy on the HoopsHype Podcast. "Sometimes we'd have to go talk to Steph like, 'Yo, you know we got a game tonight? You're going pretty hard.'

"He's a little different, man. He takes coaching and advice from everybody. If you're telling him something that's gonna better him and help him, he's gonna sit there and listen to you. He's not gonna be one of those guys that thinks he knows everything.

"I'm happy for his success ... I'm just happy he's back and being healthy."

And what about Klay?

"A guy that I had to shoot with every day in different 3-point drills that Mark Jackson used to have us doing," Wright explained. "And I'm always going first because I'm the starter, and then it would be Klay and B-Rush. I'm making 20 shots in a drill and Klay would come right behind and hit like 26, and it's like, 'Dang, this dude really is a dead-eye knockdown shooter.'

"So that was a great experience being around another good shooter and a guy that puts the time in to get better each and every day."

During the 2010-11 season, Wright set the Warriors' single-season franchise record with 194 3-pointers (Curry made 151).

The following year, he made 105 in 61 games.

Wright, who will turn 32 in December, has not played in a regular-season NBA game since April 1, 2015.

He spent the 2015-16 season in China, before returning to the Heat for the playoffs.

He was in training camp with the Clippers last October, but was waived during the preseason.

Wright enjoys watching the Warriors play and wants to make an NBA comeback.

Perhaps with his former squad...

"They play well with each other, they move the ball and they take good shots ... that's pretty hard to guard," Wright said. "I didn't get a chance this year to play them so I can't really, really tell you how hard it is (laughing), but they make it look real easy out there.

"Hopefully I can get back out there next year so I can be either on their side or on the side of trying to dethrone them."

Wright also made sure to give some love to Warriors fans.

"Some of the most loyal fans that you will ever encounter -- rowdy, loud and just love their Bay Area teams ... I'm still a resident of the Bay Area and they still show me love like I'm a current Warriors player everywhere I go...

"The fan love is crazy."

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders and a Web Producer at NBC Sports Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller