Isaiah Thomas shines in Cleveland Cavaliers debut

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 2: Isaiah Thomas
CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 2: Isaiah Thomas /

The Cleveland Cavaliers got back into the win column after defeating the Portland Trail Blazers, 127-110. Isaiah Thomas made his team debut and didn’t miss a step. Are the Cavs ready to run the East?

The wait is finally over for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Isaiah Thomas made his return on Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers. He hadn’t played since Game 2 in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs last season.

However, all the rest and rehab looked like it paid off as Thomas made his debut.

He got a standing ovation from 20,562 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland as he checked in at the 4:00 mark, and then it was game time.

It looked like he hadn’t missed a single game all season. Thomas missed his first two shots of his return, and then he sunk a 14-footer as he cut under the defense. The hip wasn’t bothering him at all.

He was running up and down the court in transition, made no-look passes and even boxed out Al-Farouq Aminu. He even cut through two defenders and made his patented toss layup that seems to always draw an and-one foul.

Yeah, I’d say IT is back.

The first thing I noticed was how he got Jae Crowder — his teammate on the Boston Celtics, immediately involved into the offense. He was starting off slow as he does most nights, but the familiarity of Thomas on the floor seemed to spark another level for Crowder.

I haven’t seen him play with as much confidence and aggressiveness all season long. It just shows how Thomas impacted the game already.

But the biggest thing was Thomas speeding up the tempo. The Cavs have played at a balanced pace for most of the season, which has had its positives and negatives. Since they’re a 3-point shooting team, and with the talent on the roster, they should always play at a fast tempo.

That could have been the plan with the Thomas return and a healthy Derrick Rose, but for now, it’s on him to keep it sped up. The baskets in transition went much smoother, and the spacing on the floor was a thing of art.

Shot attempts were tougher when the defense was able to double LeBron James or Kevin Love. Now with Thomas out there, it will always be somebody open whether it’s on a cut-and-slash or an open shot on the wing or at the key.

It’s like having that guy on the Celtics back in uniform, only he’s 5’9″.

Thomas finished with 17 points and three assists.  The Cavs were +17 with him on the floor. He also had his first technical foul as a Cavalier, with many more likely to come.

Many thought that the team would struggle with his return. I know it’s one game, and the team will go through its ups-and-downs with Thomas and ball control, but I don’t see it being much of an issue.

He doesn’t need to dominate the ball as he did with the Celtics. He’s still able to make plays off the ball, and get open.

There was another part of his game that stood out to me.

Thomas can get open with ease. It doesn’t involve all the pushing and shoving Reggie Miller and Ray Allen used to do, but on every shot attempt he was wide open.

His speed and size are still elite even after missing eight months of action.

The Cavaliers play the Celtics Wednesday night, but Thomas is not going to play. He’s restricted on back-to-back games for now. He is going to play in the two teams’ Feb. 11 matchup in a few weeks. He’ll be in the flow of things, and ready to take it to his former team by then.

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I think the return of Thomas will help the Cavs run the East, but they still need to trade for a big man. If they can do that, they’ll dominate the conference and make a return to championship prominence.