On Monday night, just a few hours after we deliberated whether or not he deserved some additional burn at the center spot, Tristan Thompson came out of the gates on all cylinders — dunking and rebounding and even showing near-range touch. The 6-foot-9-inch rookie was converting in transition, grabbing offensive boards and providing the New Jersey Nets with a source of offensive firepower that they most certainly were not anticipating prior to tip-off.
Kyrie Irving, as if it were Groundhog’s Day, did his part yet again. With a contest’s outcome within reach, the first-overall pick buckled down, took on all would-be defenders and provided yet another dagger-like fourth quarter performance as one of the game’s best point guards was relegated to watching the show unfold.
With a first-half lead erased, having just been dunked on by Deron Williams — Sportscenter! — Irving, once again, took over. When the newly acquired Gerald Wallace attempted to mark him at half court, Irving merely blew by him with a crossover dribble at the top of the key, leading to an and-one lay-in. The next trip down the floor resulted in a Kyrie Irving three-pointer. Moments later, it was Gerald Green’s turn to play “who can stop the rookie?” Irving promptly disposed of him, forcing weak-side help to adjust; the point guard’s tipped shot would find Thompson who would subsequently record two points the easy way. And then it was Williams. Irving went left, collected the ball and high-stepped into the key for yet another bucket. Williams, who had run-ins with the officiating crew all evening, was none too pleased. One can hardly blame him as his team went from up-six to down-six in roughly seven minutes of play. An amazing sequence of play, capped off by a flurry of Irving free throws.
Just two nights after St. Patrick’s Day, the St. Patrick’s product returned home, stole the show and left with the win.
When it was all said and done, the two first-year kids totaled 53 points (20-of-36 shooting), 17 rebounds, eight assists, a steal and a block. Thompson’s season-high 27 points along with 12 rebounds came on his second start at center, a game which represented his second consecutive night of career-high minutes. Big-time play from a kid who has been putting in big-time work before games and after practices.
“We know Kyrie has had games like that, but Tristan in his second start, to come out and play that way was very encouraging,” said Byron Scott following the win. ”Again we talked about with him his learning curve is pretty quick. To have a career night like he did tonight was big time because the first half he really kept us with that lead because he played so well.”
Thompson may never touch 27 and 12 again, but the potential is there. After all, what is an athletic, rookie big man without potential? A kid with an incredibly raw skill set, Monday night showed us all what it could look like if cooked and seasoned and prepared just right.
Irving’s 26 and 7 arrived not only on the second night of a back-to-back, but one night after his first career double-double. Fourteen of his 26 points came in the final period of play. Over the last 25 seasons, Elias states that only one other pair of rookie teammates have each registered at least 25 points and five rebounds in a regulation game: Seattle/Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. And if this all wasn’t poetic enough, this all went down on in the same building the two players became Cavaliers just nine months earlier during the 2011 NBA Draft.
Late June, arriving via bus and seated next to one another, each in a freshly pressed suit, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson would both be handed hats clad in Wine and Gold. Leaving by bus on a mid-March evening, Irving and Thompson were, for at least one night, tag-team champions of the world, providing the city of Cleveland with a small taste of what the future may hold.
(Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)