Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson has been a warrior ever since he put on a Wine & Gold uniform. Many questioned the selection of the Texas power forward at No. 4 in the 2011 NBA Draft, but despite the criticism, Thompson has come out and played all but six out of 166 possible games as a Cavalier. What more can you ask from him? He was thrown into a starting role that he wasn’t prepared for because of a–you guessed it–Anderson Varejao injury that occurred early on in the 2011-12 campaign, and since then, has evolved into a 35-minutes-a-night player who has learned the ways of positioning himself under the hoop.
I don’t know if you can necessarily credit the offseason hand switch to the advanced level of play Tristan has shown this season, but you can credit the experience that he has had since stepping foot into the NBA as to helping his development. Despite traversing a bumpy road the first season, Tristan started to show vast signs of improvement in the second season, but his shot was still inefficient and his passive nature allowed bigs and power forwards around the NBA to bully the former Texas product night in and night out.
Wednesday night against the Denver Nuggets (11-7), that Tristan Thompson didn’t show up. The TT we’ve been seeing most of the season—the one who doesn’t have his shot blocked every time he goes up after an offensive rebound—made an appearance. And boy did me make his presence known. TT collected a career-high 21 boards, nabbing nine of them in the first quarter, as the Cleveland bigs powered the Wine & Gold’s (6-12) 98-88 win over the Nuggets.
Despite Kyrie’s slow start to the game—a 2 of 5 shooting performance from the field in the first quarter—he came out strong in the second quarter to provide Cleveland with some sort of offensive presence. Irving tallied 12 of Cleveland’s 25 points in the second frame, providing the Cavs with the offensive output needed to stay ahead of the Nuggets, even though the team went from being up 12 in the second quarter to just four points at the start of the third quarter. The Cavaliers had played the best they have all season for the first 20 minutes of the game, but couldn’t finish out the final four minutes of the half to create a comfortable cushion. Cleveland went into the locker room up 56-52. The team had slipped the in the waning moments of the second quarter, and it cost them.
But, the Cleveland bigs came to play four quarters, and that’s what Brown has been looking for all season. Both teams shot a combined 1 of 20 (five percent) from beyond the arc; a dream for Brown, as the Cavs dominated in the paint for almost all of the second half. Cleveland ended up outrebounding 58-43. Denver averages about 56 rebounds per game. Can the trio of Thompson/Bynum/Varejao be one that dominates the Eastern Conference? It sure seems that way after Wednesday night.
PG Kyrie Irving – 23 points, and four assists, while shooting 45 percent from the field and 40 percent from three. After struggling with his shot in the first quarter (started off 2 of 5 from the field), Kyrie started to feel it in the second quarter. At the half, Irving had 17 points, 12 of which came in the second quarter. This was big, as Cleveland was outplayed in the second frame, resulting in Denver closing a double-digit Cleveland lead to four at the half. Kyrie’s offense came at the right time, so that was a positive.
SG C.J. Miles – Zero points in 16 minutes, while shooting 0 of 4 from the field and 0 of 2 from three. Even though they didn’t need to, no shooting guard on the Cavaliers roster stepped up to perform tonight. Dion had a rough game, and Dellavedova didn’t even have to play (!!!). I didn’t see Miles’ performance as much of a problem at all. He just wasn’t hitting his shots tonight, so Brown opted to play Dion more, who struggled as well.
SF Alonzo Gee – Seven points, while shooting 25 percent from the field. Coach Brown calls Gee his unsung hero, and when he isn’t shooting the ball, that’s true. This was one of those nights where Gee did shoot more often than he usually does, and the results showed that he should stay away from getting too trigger-happy. If Anthony Bennett continues to receive minutes early on in games, then I won’t see Gee starting as a problem, as Bennett showed some great strides in the little court time he saw Wednesday night.
PF Tristan Thompson – 17 points, 21 rebounds and three blocks, while shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the free throw line. What more can I say? The man came to play tonight. I would peg this as his best game of his career. It’s hard to argue against that.
C Andrew Bynum – 14 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes, while shooting 40 percent from the field. My friend texted me a little bit after the second half got underway that Bynum was a force on the court tonight. I couldn’t agree more. Shots will start to fall for him in the paint, but the important thing is that he’s making Tristan’s job easier. Bynum’s presence in the paint Wednesday night definitely had an effect on the huge game TT had. If he continues to make players around him better, then this team will surge up the rankings.
C Anderson Varejao – 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, while shooting 77.8 percent from the field. How much does RDE love Andy coming off the bench and hitting long-range jumpers and causing havoc in the paint? A LOT. This is exactly where he should be playing, and with the team pretty much at full health right now, I think Andy is perfectly fine with the role he’s been filling. He’s not starting, but he still played 28 minutes tonight. I mentioned something about Andy playing 28 minutes off the bench before the season, because that’s where his niche was with LeBron in town. I’m excited to see this trend coming back to Cleveland. And the best thing is that Andy is embracing it the same way he always has: with brute physicality and great elbow shooting.
Hey! No Delly tonight! I love his hustle, but if we don’t have to play him, then why should we? This is the ideal bench rotation that the Cavs should be shooting for each game, and Brown can make this happen as long as health is on the Wine & Gold’s side. He got the ideal production he wants from his bigs, but performance like these aren’t going to come on a nightly basis. But when they do, they make Brown look good. And also, I loved how Brown played Bennett in a meaningful setting: early on in the game and at small forward. You can read more about it here, but if the team plays good, there’s not much to nitpick at regarding Brown’s decisions.