Still Punching In

Still Punching In

Cleveland’s Blue-Collar Big Man Doing the Postseason Dirty Work

When Tristan Thompson’s games-played streak came to a close in the final week of the regular season, we measured it by the number of consecutive contests he appeared in – 447.

A sprained right thumb suffered in a win over Orlando ended the iron man streak, and ran his grand total of missed games to nine games over a six-year career. That’s 457 of 466 contests, or 98 percent attendance.

And although the streak was very meaningful, Thompson knew that the decision was about the bigger picture.

”I think (the streak ending) is a good thing,” said the ever-optimistic big man. “Obviously, you want to keep the streak going, but at the same time, your body needs rest. So it’s a good thing. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The big goal is playing in June, so I’d rather be in the best shape I can be in health-wise than be dragging with nagging injuries or not being 100 percent trying to get to the Finals.”

Of course, just because he accepted the decision didn’t mean he was happy about it.

”It was definitely tough, not being able to go up to Boston, especially with the dynamic of that situation,” recalled Tristan. “But the guys held the fort down and did their thing, and after the game I was on FaceTime with all of them when they were running through the tunnel, so it was pretty dope.”

Not used to watching from home, Thompson still made his presence felt from his living room couch.

”Oh, I was hyped! I was like their No. 1 cheerleader. I was going crazy at home! Talking trash – cursing! I was riled up like I was at the arena.”

Tristan Thompson has pulled down double-digit boards in all three games of this series (11.0 RPG). He recorded nine points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes in the Game 3 victory and has now had 10-plus boards in 27 of his 44 career playoff games.
Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Yet another way to gauge the franchise’s all-time iron man – who eclipsed Jim Chones’ previous mark of 361 straight – is to look at the centers that have come and gone since he began his streak midway through a lockout-shortened rookie season in 2011-12.

That list includes the likes of Semih Erden, Ryan Hollins, Tyler Zeller, Anderson Varejao, Spencer Hawes, Andrew Bynum, Kendrick Perkins, Brendan Haywood and the incomparable Alex Kirk.

And that’s just the list heading into this season.

After winning the title with the Wine and Gold last year, Timofey Mozgov signed with the Lakers in the offseason. In late July, the World Champs inked veteran center Chris Andersen. But after appearing in only a dozen contests, a season-ending knee injury essentially closed the book on the Birdman chapter in Cleveland.

As the Cavs searched for an answer at the backup center spot, Channing Frye manned the middle – a role he’s not cut out for, but one he’s filled impressively. In 15 starts this season, Frye averaged 11.4 points and 5.1 boards per. In his four starts at center with Tristan nursing the sprained right thumb, Frye was even better – averaging 14.8 points and 7.0 rebounds, shooting 57 percent from the floor, 41 percent from long-distance.

But the Cavs brass knew that, despite Frye’s solid stints at center, they’d still need help.

On March 2, the Cavaliers looked to have solved the situation – inking Andrew Bogut for the remainder of the season. But less than a minute into his Cleveland debut, in a home matchup against Miami, the former No. 1 overall pick broke his left leg closing out on a three-point shooter.

That injury sucked the life out of the team that night – and maybe for the rest of the month. And once again, it was Thompson and Frye as the Wine and Gold’s last line of defense.

For the Cavaliers’ most easy-going guy – (aside from a well-earned outburst in overtime on April 2 at The Q) – it hasn’t bothered him to do most of the heavy lifting down low.

”It hasn’t been too bad; it’s part of the game,” said Thompson. “Thank God for my youth, and taking care of my body and staying strong where I can take the beating. I haven’t really thought much about not having a backup all season and Channing’s been doing a great job – protecting the paint and what he brings to the game in terms of floor-spacing. It keeps teams from keeping their big in the game so he doesn’t have to bump and grind so much.”

”That win showed what we’re about. We played with the heart of a Champion. We played right to the horn.”

Cavaliers Center Tristan Thompson

The nice inside-out combination of Thompson and Frye has worked well through the first three games of the postseason. Thompson is shooting .588 from the floor and averaging 11.0 boards per. Frye is shooting .563 from the floor and an even 50 percent (6-of-12) from long-range.

Of Thompson’s 33 boards in the postseason, 18 have come off the offensive glass.

During the regular season, Tristan ranked 5th in the league, averaging 3.7 offensive boards per game. And in the Playoffs, only the great Moses Malone (5.4 rpg) has been better on the offensive glass than Thompson (4.4) in the tournament.

The native Canadian – who shot a career-best .600 from the floor this season – was one of the driving forces behind the Cavaliers’ jaw-dropping comeback on Thursday night, revving his motor in the game’s decisive third quarter – snagging six of his 10 boards and blocking two of his three shots in the period.

Naturally, Thursday’s effort was not lost on Tyronn Lue.

”Just having the fight – and every night Tristan is gonna give you that,” said Lue after the epic Game 3 win. “He’s gonna work hard, he’s gonna be on the offensive glass, he’s gonna defend and he’s gonna rebound the basketball. And when he’s making big plays like that – offensive rebounding, put-backs, rolling to the basket and finishing or getting a big stop defensively, it really energizes our whole team.”

”That win showed what we’re about,” added Thompson. “We played with the heart of a Champion. We played right to the horn.”

The six-year vet from Texas has had another rock-solid season with the squad that selected him with the fourth overall pick in 2011 – averaging 8.1 points and 9.2 boards (15th in the league), doubling-up on 19 occasions, grabbing double-digit boards in 38 games and leading the team in 40. He also blocked a career-best 84 shots this past season.

”I lifted a little more this year — got a little stronger, started growing into my body a little more,” admitted Thompson. “I’ve tried taking that to another level, just being physically stronger to take those lumps. You have to give a lot of credit to D-Mill (Cavs strength coach Derek Millender) for getting me prepared for that.”

After his four-game layoff, the iron man streak might be over. But a revived Thompson has moved on to the next chapter and he’s got his eyes on a much bigger prize.

”I feel refreshed; I think having that week off was definitely huge for me, just in terms of re-charging my battery and getting me ready for the postseason,” concluded Cleveland’s blue-collar big. “In the postseason, every possession counts, so it’s the little things. Sometimes, it’s the little plays that I make that can change the outcome of the game – whether it’s blocking a shot or blitzing a guard or getting an offensive rebound.

”Those little things can change a game. They can change a series.”

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