Isaiah Thomas made his long-awaited debut for the Cavs in last night’s 127-110 win over the Trail Blazers and if you’re a teammate or a fan, it was worth the wait.
Thomas had not played since May 19th, when he was still a member of the Boston Celtics, but when he checked into the game with 4:33 remaining in the first quarter he received the kind of standing ovation that you’d get if you’d been playing in C-town for a decade.
But he hadn’t. And he was feeling the nerves. Or at least that’s what he said after the game. And it would make sense. He’s with a new team, in a new city, and has been rehabbing for seven months. There’s bound to be nerves. But he certainly didn’t seem to show them. 17 points and 3 assists in 19 minutes. That was better than anyone could’ve expected after missing so much time with a hip injury and joining a new team. And the best part is, he got physical. He hit the deck on his second possession, but got up uninjured. That moment right there was bigger than the 17 points, the three assists, or the three three-pointers. Take a shot, get over that mental block, and keep moving.
And you could tell from his postgame tweets, that he was pumped: Damn that felt good!!! God is so good. Truly blessed to be able to be on the court again competing for something. Great team win and thank you for all the love and support during these tough 7 months that I’ve been out. I’m finally back and it feels so good #ThatSLOWgrind
That’s not to say there wasn’t rust, there was some. But this didn’t look like a guy who was supposedly damaged goods. That didn’t look like a guy who will never be what he once was in Boston. That didn’t look like a guy who was so banged up, he might not play this year or even worse, so banged up the trade might even be cancelled. He didn’t look like that guy at all.
Instead, Isaiah Thomas looked like the guy Isaiah Thomas has always been. The guy who has been overlooked and cast aside time and time again. The guy who just keeps proving everyone wrong. LeBron couldn’t hype that enough after the game: “What I like most about him is he has a chip on his shoulder for life. That’s just who he is. When a guy’s got a chip on his shoulder for life, he ain’t going to — he’s never going to not work hard. Not going to never give it his all.”
That’s the truth. He has a chip on his shoulder that’s not going away. And probably only got bigger during his rehab process. You can’t tell me that trade didn’t add fuel to his fire. Just like you can’t tell me that not being able to play immediately and prove the doubters wrong didn’t add fuel to his fire. And that was a fire that had already been raging for years.
And he did show moments of the old Isaiah – the pick and roll, the pull-up jumper, and the fire. But he also looked good playing off the ball with LeBron. And that’s really what this is about. Isaiah Thomas in Cleveland isn’t about winning early January games against Portland, it’s about winning late spring games against Boston and early summer games against Golden State. How will LeBron and IT work on the floor at the same time? And how much better will the Cavs be when they’re able to stagger their time on the bench?
Last night was a small sample size, but if you’re Ty Lue, IT, or LeBron, you’re feeling pretty good. They aren’t the favorites to win it all, but all things considered, that was a damn good debut.