I’ll admit it – when I heard the Cleveland Cavaliers were starting Tristan Thompson in Sunday’s Game 7 against the Indiana Pacers, I thought it was pure desperation. Here the team was, facing elimination far earlier than anyone anticipated, with LeBron James receiving zero support from anyone else on the roster and desperately looking for someone else to help carry the load.
The solution to all of this was to put Thompson into the starting lineup?
It turns out the answer to that question was a resounding “yes.” Not only did Thompson help Cleveland eliminate the Pacers last Sunday, he may have saved the team’s season.
Yes, I’m fully aware the Cavs have only made it this far thanks to James essentially carrying a bag of corpses through the first round of the postseason. Were it not for him, Indiana likely would’ve swept the series.
Still, searching for any non-LeBron help was proving futile, and the idea Thompson could be any sort of savior seemed like nothing more than wishful thinking. After all, he had just finished an incredibly underwhelming season, which featured a lengthy injury hiatus and a notable decline in performance. Before Game 7, he had been all but completely removed from Cleveland’s rotation, replaced with the younger Larry Nance Jr.
After Sunday, he deserved to be a key piece of the game-plan moving forward.
Thompson completely changed the way the Cavs played as they eliminated the Pacers. He brought a level of energy we haven’t seen from him all season, while also contributing 15 points, ten rebounds and a key block late in the contest. His play ignited the home crowd, which likely arrived to Quicken Loans Arena anxious about the potential of seeing James’ last game as a Cav.
Thanks to Thompson, fans can at the very least postpone their worries about James’ free agency plans for the time being.
If Thompson’s effect on Cleveland’s play was limited solely to Game 7, we’d probably think less of it the further the team went into the playoffs. As we saw last night, though, his impact is still being felt on the court.
Thompson played a crucial role in the Cavs’ stunning come-from-behind victory over the top-seeded Toronto Raptors. Outside of providing yet another double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds), he also helped quiet one of the opponent’s top-performers.
Through the third quarter of last night’s Eastern Conference Semifinal opener, Jonas Valenciunas was obliterating Cleveland, scoring 13 points and helping Toronto build a 80-67 lead. Coach Tyronn Lue’s plan of having Kevin Love defend the Lithuanian big man backfired in epic fashion, as it seemed nobody could stop him in the paint.
Once Thompson entered the game in the fourth quarter, Valenciunas became a non-factor. He made just one field goal in the final frame and, of his 21 points from Game 1, only two came when guarded by Thompson.
The Ontario native wasn’t the only reason the team snatched a victory last night. J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver and even the much-maligned Jeff Green each helped provide some badly needed offensive support, all on a night where James struggled (by his standards, at least). The Cavs were also obviously helped by Toronto’s offense going frigid through both the fourth quarter and overtime.
That said, it’s impossible to ignore how much better this team has played when Thompson gets significant minutes. After six games of looking lifeless more often than not, the Cavs now appear completely reinvigorated.
If this is being fueled by Thompson’s presence, then Cleveland owes him big time. Were it not for his efforts, the team may already be knee-deep in offseason plans.