By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Isaiah Thomas made his return to the floor on Tuesday night, and did not disappoint in his Cavaliers debut.
Thomas showed few signs of the hip injury that sidelined him for seven months, scoring 17 points off the bench for Cleveland in their 127-110 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. He displayed his usual array of offensive moves, driving to the hoop with relative ease despite his 5-foot-9 stature while also knocking down shots from deep. He went 6-for-12 from the floor, including three of his eight attempts from downtown, while adding three assists in his 19 minutes of action.
Thomas checked in with 4:33 left in the first quarter to a standing ovation, a moment he won’t soon forget.
“It was a special moment,” Thomas told reporters. “I haven’t played in a game and you would think I was here for a few years and playing and battling in the Finals with this team. But it was special for my family to be here, my wife and kids to see that, that’s genuine love right there.”
He hadn’t played in a game since hobbling off the floor back on May 19, a Game 2 loss by the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavaliers. There was some obvious rust when he first entered on Tuesday night, but that didn’t last very long. Thomas sped down the floor the first time he touched the ball and hit former Boston teammate Jae Crowder for an easy layup, but missed his first two attempts from the floor (both from three-point range). But as he always does, Thomas shook off those misses and calmly knocked down a 14-footer on his third attempt for his first bucket with his new team. He made a strong drive to the basket on Cleveland’s next possession, finishing with a nice scoop shot while drawing a foul, bouncing right up after tumbling to the floor.
Thomas looked like his old self the rest of the way, which is a scary concept for the rest of the NBA. While the Cavs will have to do some tinkering to their rotation to work Thomas into their lineup, his return gives Cleveland a dangerous offensive weapon for the second half of the season. Trying to find a fit for a scorer like Thomas is a problem just about every other team would gladly take on at the moment.
He’s not completely back to 100 percent, as the Cavaliers will continue to monitor Thomas’ minutes and he will not play in back-to-back games for the foreseeable future. That means Thomas, shipping to Cleveland by the Celtics in their blockbuster swap for Kyrie Irving, won’t square off against his former team on Wednesday night when the Cavs make their first trip to Boston. That will have to wait until February 11, when the Cavaliers and Celtics square off on National TV in a Sunday afternoon matinee.
But Tuesday night was great first step for Thomas in his return to the floor.
“It’s been a long journey for me,” Thomas said. “I couldn’t really see the light at the end of the tunnel. For that day to come the first couple days of 2018, it’s going to be a special year.”