For three games, Tristan Thompson was a disappointment. He was outrebounded by Stephen Curry. He failed to contain the Warriors on switches. And he failed to be the Cavs’ sole rim protector, a role he has to fill if Cleveland is going to win that series. It was like the Cavs’ most energetic player had his batteries removed and the team lost some juice in the process.
Thompson’s struggles weren’t caused by one thing or player. Warriors center Zaza Pachulia deserves some credit for bodying up Thompson and keeping him off the glass. And Golden State did gameplan to pull him away from the basket, something a Cavs source said before Game 4 that Thompson and the team failed to adjust to.
“Talk all you want...you're not about to punk us,” Thompson said after the Cavs beat the Warriors 137-116-in Game 4. “S--t, you're not about to punk me. You're not about to punk Tristan Thompson.”
The most important thing Thompson did in Game 4 was rebound. Two offensive rebounds in the opening 3:40 resulted in six Cavaliers points and he pulled down three in the Cavaliers’ 49 point opening quarter. For the game, he pulled down 10 boards — four of which came from the offensive glass — in a series high 35 minutes. Thompson saw deserved playing at the five when the Cavs went small with Richard Jefferson in at the four to match the small lineups Golden State used to close the game. For the first time all series, Cleveland needed him on the floor.
“I think when Tristan is so active and being who he is, and that's one of if not the best offensive rebounder of the game, and a guy that brings energy every single night,” Kevin Love said post game. “I mean, it's tough to fail when you play that hard. So good things are going to happen, and we saw that tonight out of Tristan.”
“That’s who he is,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “A great rebounder. A physical player.”
Thompson’s sheer hustle was back, too. On one play, he chased down Draymond Green on the break, caught up to him and forced a miss. It’s in those moments where the Warriors kill teams, and Thompson stopped it with hustle and positioning.
Thompson, although he only scored five points on three shot attempts, was also a key part of the Cavaliers’ offensive onslaught. When he caught passes from teammates, he didn’t force shots against two or three Warriors defenders. Instead, he kept the ball moving — leading to a five assist, two turnover night. Most notably, three of his five assists set up corner three-pointers for Love. One, in typical Thompson fashion, come directly as a result of an offensive rebound. On another, he beat Pachulia off the dribble and found a wide-open Love.
As for his two turnovers, one was a mishandled bounce and the other was Stephen Curry poking away the ball from behind. These were not turnovers where he made a bad read — even if his assists do look uncomfortable — and Thompson was a key part of the Cavs’ first win of the series.
“When we needed him most,” LeBron James said, “he was there.”