CLEVELAND — Isaiah Thomas didn’t look like a guy playing his first game with a new team. Nor did he look like someone who hadn’t played in a game in 71⁄2 months.
The 5-foot-9 point guard made a triumphant return from a serious right hip injury, putting up 17 points and three assists as the Cavaliers beat the Portland Trail Blazers 127-110 Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena.
“It’s been a long journey for me,” Thomas said. “I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel for so long.”
Thomas, who last played for Boston on May 19 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Cavs, played 19 minutes and went 6-for-12 from the field, 3-for-8 on 3-pointers and 2-for-4 at the line.
More importantly, he looked quick, explosive and able to get a shot off or drive just about any time he desired.
“He did better than everybody expected,” said teammate LeBron James, who may have posted the most overlooked 24 points, six rebounds, eight assists and four steals of his 15-year career. “(Except) probably not himself. We all know how confident he is.”
Thomas will sit out a back-to-back tonight in Boston, but will be in the starting lineup Saturday when the Cavs play in Orlando. He’ll still be under a minutes restriction, but his Cleveland debut was an overwhelming success.
“It just looked easy to him,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.
Cleveland (25-12), which had lost three straight and four of its last five, also got 19 points from an under-the-weather Kevin Love and 15 points and eight boards from Dwyane Wade.
Damian Lillard, who had missed five games with a strained hamstring, led Portland (19-18) with 25 points and seven turnovers, while center Jusuf Nurkic had 23 points, seven boards and four assists.
The story, though, was Thomas’ return.
The crowd cheered when he went to the scorer’s table midway through the first period, and the fans gave him a standing ovation when he checked into the game with 4:33 left in the quarter.
For that matter, the fans even cheered the first time he dribbled the ball down the floor, which ended with an assist to cutting former Celtics teammate Jae Crowder.
“It was a special moment,” Thomas said. “I hadn’t played in a game, but you’d think I had been here a few years and played in The Finals.”
The first time he penetrated, Thomas was tripped and fouled by Al-Farouq Aminu, then missed a 3-pointer from the left wing and another from the left corner.
“It felt good that I popped right back up,” he said. “I know that’s going to happen.”
The 28-year-old got his first points on a 14-foot pull-up with 1:11 left in the first, then drove, scored and was fouled by Shabazz Napier for a three-point play.
The period ended with Thomas air-balling a 3-pointer from the right wing, giving him five shots, five points and an assist in 4 1/2 minutes.
Having already missed three 3-point attempts, Thomas finally hit one with 10:13 left in the second quarter to put Cleveland up 37-32. He exited with 9:32 left in the half after playing 7:01 and scoring eight points.
“The hardest thing is making shots,” James said of Thomas’ early struggles. “You don’t have your rhythm.”
Thomas, who ended up playing 11:53 in the first half, came back into the game with 4:52 left in the second quarter and immediately assisted on an inside hoop by James, but the seventh-year pro was called for a technical foul with 3:18 to go after complaining about a no-call on the Blazers.
In the third period, Thomas had an interesting sequence shortly after checking in at the 3:13 mark. In a span of four possessions, he missed a drive, made a corner three, got stripped for a turnover and drew a foul on a 3-point attempt, after which he made just one free throw.
Undeterred, the next time down he pushed the pace, got into the lane and delivered a bounce pass that got a cutting Wade two free throw attempts.
Thomas then helped the Cavs put the game away in the fourth, hitting a pull-up 16-footer, threading a pass to Wade for a layup and hitting a corner three.
“I’m going to fit in no matter what,” he said. “I’m a basketball player.”
- All about pride: Isaiah Thomas says Cavaliers need to find some fast with Warriors in town
- Jim Ingraham: The LeBron James Tax can be a pain, but the benefits outweigh the costs
- With Isaiah Thomas at point, Cavaliers showing offense's true potential
- Isaiah Thomas close to returning, could be spark Cavaliers need
- Cavs: Isaiah Thomas set to make season debut tonight against Portland