CLEVELAND — Tristan Thompson might have earned the bulk of his $15.33 million salary Sunday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena.
After playing just over 23 minutes — totaling three points and six rebounds — during the first six games of Cleveland’s first-round playoff series against Indiana, including three games in which he didn’t play at all, Thompson was thrust into the Game 7 starting lineup and responded with a first-half double-double to help the Cavaliers come away with a 105-101 victory.
“I was in the weight room yesterday before practice just doing my daily routine, and (Cavs coach Tyronn Lue) just came up to me and said, ‘I’m going to start you tomorrow,’” Thompson said. “I said, ‘Say no more.’ When my number’s called, I have to be ready to be there for my guys, especially with what was on the line — win or go home.”
Lue went with Thompson, Kevin Love, LeBron James, Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith — putting all four of the remaining players from Cleveland’s 2016 championship team in the starting lineup. Korver arrived the following season.
“We started the game with a unit that we knew,” James said. “We’ve been in situations before, we’ve played in big games before, so that’s a comfort to start the game.”
The comfort level grew as Thompson did his thing. He made all four shots and both free throws for 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds — five offensive — to help Cleveland grab a 54-43 halftime lead.
It was the 15th postseason double-double of Thompson’s career and just the second time he had a double-double in one half. He scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the first half against Golden State on June, 16, 2016. It was also his first double-double since scoring 10 points and grabbing 11 rebounds against Atlanta on Feb. 9.
“I’ve been telling him all series long to just wait his turn until his name is called, and when it’s called be that spark,” Cavs points guard George Hill said. “From the jump, he was that spark that we needed, and I think he just had a phenomenal game — probably the best I’ve seen him play in a while.”
In his first start since March 28 versus Charlotte, Thompson went 5-of-6 from the field and the line to finish with 15 points, a team-high 10 rebounds, one assist, one steal and one blocked shot.
“For me, I just do what’s got me here, which is playing hard, competing, setting good screens and just trying to wear out the other bigs with good defense and getting offensive rebounds,” Thompson said. “It’s part of being a professional. You have to stay ready at all times.”
A good chunk of Thompson’s previous series playing time and stats came in Game 6, when he was inserted late in the game after the Pacers had taken a commanding lead.
“It was good just in trying to get a rhythm, being out there with the guys, running up and down and just seeing some game time,” he said. “Even though it was a blowout, I was able to get out there and get a feel for the game, so if I did get the opportunity to play in Game 7, I’m a little more comfortable and ready to play.”
Not that Thompson needed much preparation time — he said he and other reserves played 5-on-5 games between playoff games to stay sharp — or motivation to step into the starting lineup.
“After Game 6, I looked at Bron, Swish and K-Love and said, ‘We’ve been through this before. We’ve been in Game 7s and know what it takes,’” Thompson said. “There’s nothing like a Game 7. It’s like I was telling the young guys, ‘This is what the playoffs are about. Game 7 separates the men from the boys. You’ve got to give everything you’ve got.’”
Thankfully for the Cavs, Thompson gave them everything they needed.
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