Tristan Thompson is ready to right his wrongs — can he get right for Game 3?
Let’s not forget: He’s one of the most consistent players on the Cavs and he knows how to defend against Steph Curry
Tristan Thompson knew the question was coming. So the Cavaliers forward was better prepared for it this time around. With the Cavs this season, especially their fourth consecutive Finals showdown with the Golden State Warriors, everything goes viral. Thompson walked out of a postgame interview after being asked following Game 2’s 122-103 loss whether he felt defenseless when guarding Stephen Curry.
“[That was] just a dumb question. It made no sense,” Thompson said during media availability Tuesday afternoon. “Do you feel helpless? I only feel helpless if you’re getting robbed at gunpoint — that’s helpless. This is basketball.”
It’s been a season filled with strange moments for Thompson. His personal and professional lives collided when his relationship with Khloe Kardashian hit tabloid and social media fans. But on Tuesday, Thompson left no question about the urgency of Wednesday night. “It’s not about pulling younger [less experienced] teammates aside,” said Thompson. He, by the way, is the Cavalier with the longest tenure (not counting LeBron James’ first stint).
“We know how important it is to get Game 3,” Thompson continued sternly. “This is the most important game of the series. We gotta go out and leave it all out there.”
A proverbial black cloud has followed Thompson. A string of misfortune and bad luck that can be traced back to the 2017 Finals.
The Warriors were hellbent on removing Thompson from the series after the former Texas Longhorn averaged a double-double in the 2016 Finals and anchored an exceptional interior defense that helped spur the Cavs to the 3-1 comeback that brought the city of Cleveland its first major pro title in 52 years. Last June, though, Golden State made Thompson a nonfactor in a five-game series in which Curry grabbed more rebounds than he did.
Thompson didn’t get much time to erase yester-June’s stain heading into this season. He suffered a right calf injury at the beginning of November. The injury sidelined him for a month, and when he did return he was the scapegoat for Cleveland’s bench issues.
Thompson’s return to the lineup did little to change Cleveland’s troubles in the new year. The Cavs couldn’t string together a series of wins if they tried. At one point, the possibility of the Cavaliers missing the playoffs altogether was a legitimate topic, as it became clear that the experiment that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston and brought in Isaiah Thomas had failed miserably. Midseason turmoil resulted in the Cavaliers gutting much of their roster to bring in guys like Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and George Hill.
If Thompson has never found a groove this year, it’s because he’s spent too much time away from the court. A model of consistency before this season, he played all 82 games for four consecutive seasons and played in 78 games last season. Injuries and a difficulty integrating into the rotation have limited Thompson to 53 games. And time on the inactive list came calling again in March after a right ankle sprain sidelined him for a month. By the time he returned to the lineup, his lack of production while there led to backlash about not just his production but also about him and Kardashian, with whom he has a daughter, True.
On the eve of the postseason, footage of Thompson and women who weren’t his then-pregnant girlfriend surfaced. The story, like any and everything Kardashian-related, became national fodder. His infidelity infiltrated the Cavaliers’ culture since the story broke around the time he was returning to the lineup. He became a social media pariah. Even when Thompson performed well on the court, the vitriol was there: “Everyone still hates you!!!!”-like comments were common. And he became an eventual focal point for fellow Kardashian clan member Kanye West, who on his recently released “Yikes” rhymed, All these thots on Christian Mingle/ That’s what almost got Tristan single/ If you don’t ball like him or Kobe/ Guarantee that b—- gon’ leave you.
The scandal was a low point in a season that couldn’t have gone any worse for Thompson. And it was just another scar on a squad in search of itself.
Yet, despite the drama, Thompson’s once again in the same spot he’s been the past four Junes. Being down 0-2 in a series against a team he admits is an all-time great squad isn’t intimidating to him. If anything, the Finals represent an opportunity to right a ship that began to go off course nearly a year ago. Thompson’s still being outrebounded by Curry (13 to 10 through two games).
“There’s no place like playing on your home court. Our crowd is one of the best in the league,” Thompson says. “We owe it to them to come out … and leave it on the line.”
More importantly, Thompson owes that to himself.