Isaiah Thomas doesn’t miss a step in debut with Cavs

After missing seven months of action and five months after being traded to a new team, Isaiah Thomas finally made his debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night. Thomas checked in with 4:33 remaining in the first quarter as he received a standing ovation from his teammates and the fans in Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. i

“It was a special moment,” Thomas said. “I haven’t played in a game, so you would think that I was here for a few years and playing and battling in the finals with this team. It was special, I mean for even my family to be here. My wife and kids to see that, that’s genuine love right there and I appreciate the fans patiently waiting and giving the love they did tonight.”

It appeared Thomas’ presence was worth the wait because he came out pushing the tempo from the moment he entered the game. He ultimately ended up with 17 points and three assists in 19 minutes of playing time. “He is a scorer,” Cavaliers guard Dwyane Wade said in an ESPN postgame interview. “All the eyes are on him when you’re on the floor, so it allows guys to just be free, make cuts, get him the ball let him be I.T. and as he gets in shape more and more, it adds a different dynamic to our team that we haven’t seen and that we’re all excited about coming into this new year.”

After the Cavaliers 127-110 victory over the Portland Trailblazers, Thomas won’t play in the team’s first game in Boston this season because he hasn’t been cleared to play in back-to-backs yet.

Considering the team’s age, it’s a big if, but if the Cavaliers can find themselves with a healthy roster in April heading into the playoffs, then they should breeze once again through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Perhaps one of the biggest problems for the Cavaliers during last year’s finals was that they only had one, on some nights two, options to close out games. With Thomas, Wade, and LeBron James in the fold, Cleveland now has three options to turn to when in need of a bucket in big games.

The more healthy the Cavaliers are, the more competitive the finals will be, and a healthy Boston Celtics team, will lead to an even more competitive Eastern Conference finals.

Isaiah Thomas’ intense relationship with Boston, explained….

                                 Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Isaiah Thomas made his Cleveland Cavaliers debut against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday and is sitting out against the Boston Celtics the following day. It would have been cosmically perfect for the point guard to play for the first time this season against the team that traded him away, but it made more sense for Thomas to come back to a game with lower stakes.

We figure it will kill Thomas to sit against Boston, however, given that he’s said plenty about the Celtics since they traded him in the Kyrie Irving blockbuster last August. Thomas finished fifth in the league’s MVP voting lat year, averaging the third-most points per game while leading Boston to the top seed in the league. The Cavaliers and the Celtics will face each other once more this season on Feb. 11, and they certainly could meet in the postseason. At some point, Thomas will play his old team, even if its not during Wednesday’s highly anticipated clash. Those feelings will exist then, too. Why have they been so strong?

Thomas sacrificed a lot for the Celtics

Thomas has spent his entire career searching for a team that wanted him. He was the last pick in the 2011 NBA draft, unappreciated in Sacramento, and made available for a trade in Phoenix. When Thomas and Boston connected, and when the 5’9 scoring guard blossomed last season, it looked like he might have found a more welcoming home.

Certainly, Thomas did his part. His game, especially given his diminutive size, revolves across sacrificing his body on repeated drives to the rim. He averaged more than eight free throws per game last season. Thomas was eventually shut down for the year with a hip injury in Game 2 during the Eastern Conference Finals, but he had played through that exact hip problem earlier in that postseason before it became unmanageable. He also lost his tooth during the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and didn’t even miss the second half.

In something of a completely different magnitude, Thomas led the Celtics to a first-round series win against the Chicago Bulls one day after learning his 22-year-old sister, Chyna, had died in a car accident. It’s not appropriate to wonder extensively what reasons Thomas had for playing — maybe it was just his way of coping — but you cannot deny the sacrifices he made for that team. After all that, the Celtics traded Thomas for Irving just months later.

Thomas blames one person for this

It was Danny Ainge, the Celtics general manager, who ultimately dealt Thomas, and that’s the one person who Thomas will never forgive.

“Boston is going to be all love,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins. “I might not ever talk to Danny again. That might not happen. I’ll talk to everybody else. But what he did, knowing everything I went through, you don’t do that, bro. That’s not right. I’m not saying eff you. But every team in this situation comes out a year or two later and says, ‘We made a mistake.’ That’s what they’ll say, too.”

The job of general manager is tough. It’s easy to understand why Boston traded for Irving on paper, and why it makes sense logistically to “upgrade” to a similar player who is taller and younger. There have also been concerns lobbied about how long Thomas can remain at his high level, and whether his hip problems might even be genetic. We still aren’t sure if Thomas will return to his previous level even if he’s back on the court.

All that said, Thomas-for-Irving is a move that Ainge felt he had to make, and that unfortunately is a heartbreaking decision on an emotional level. We talk a lot about the concept of loyalty in the NBA, and most fans still have some expectations of that from their best players. But we’re learning again and again that loyalty is viewed as a one-sided street, and that front offices don’t value that in the big picture.

So that’s why Thomas still harbors hard feelings toward the Celtics

He’ll get a loud ovation in Boston on Wednesday if he is shown, and Thomas will reciprocate for his former coaches, teammates, and fans. But Danny Ainge, in his mind, wronged him. And it isn’t hard to feel like Thomas has a point, even if we all ultimately respect the decision, too.