CLEVELAND (Ohio) • As he entered a National Basketball Association (NBA) game for the first time as a Cleveland Cavaliers player, Isaiah Thomas was greeted with a standing ovation by the sellout crowd at the Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday night.
Thomas, the All-Star guard who was acquired in a trade with the Boston Celtics this off-season, showed flashes of his former, brilliant self in his return from a hip injury.
He threw crisp passes, fought his way to the basket, and had five shots in his first five minutes on the court. His return helped put an end to Cleveland's three-game losing streak as the Cavaliers beat the Portland Trail Blazers 127-110.
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue told reporters before the home game that the most important hurdle for Thomas to clear would be testing the durability of his hip in the game.
"Once he hits the floor, gets banged and sees he has no damage or he's not hurting, I think that will help him get past the mental block of coming back, being out for seven months," Lue said.
That crucial moment came when Thomas tried to split Damian Lillard and Al-Farouq Aminu and crashed to the floor - only to immediately hop back up again.
Over the past several months, as Thomas rehabilitated his injured hip and waited to make his debut, no amount of controlled workouts at the team's practice facility was going to simulate how his body would hold up under the rigours of competition, when the opposition go all out with the intention of stopping him.
So the fact that Thomas showed no ill-effects of that fall - not to mention the one he took following an and-one lay-up a few minutes later - made his opening act as a Cavalier an unqualified success.
The two-time NBA All-Star, who averaged a career-best 28.9 points for Boston last season, checked in 4min 33sec into the game and was limited to 19 minutes. But he performed well in that short amount of time, with 17 points on six-of-12 shooting, along with three assists.
LeBron James racked up 24 points, eight assists and six rebounds, Kevin Love added 19 points and seven boards, Jae Crowder scored 17 and Dwyane Wade had 15 and eight rebounds to help the Cavaliers (25-12) earn their 13th consecutive home win.
ISAIAH THOMAS' FIRST GAME FOR THE CAVS
Lillard contributed 22 points on his return from a sore right hamstring, while Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum had 23 and 19 points respectively for the Trail Blazers (19-18).
"It was great," James said of Thomas' return. "Just to see him, his first basket, he had his pull-up shot going a little bit.
"It's a spark and jolt we need on our team right now."
The pressure on Thomas to return has been intense. He missed the first 36 games of the season following a shock trade in which he, Crowder, Ante Zizic and a first-round draft pick were sent to Cleveland in exchange for Kyrie Irving.
Thomas' hip injury nearly killed the trade, and Boston eventually threw in a second-round pick as well, but the Celtics came out as the early winners in the deal with Irving leading them to an Eastern Conference-best record of 30-10.
The two teams will meet this morning (Singapore time) as the Cavaliers travel to Boston. Thomas, who will be monitored closely in the early stages of his return, will not play in that game - and has requested the Celtics not play a video tribute to him - but Lue said he expected him to rejoin the starting line-up after that clash.
NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS
BOSTON V CLEVELAND
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