CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – All of the indications to the contrary were there, but when Isaiah Thomas emerged from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ tunnel on Thursday night, things seemed as if he was back.
The All-NBA point guard had already done a full 5-on-5 scrimmage with the G-League affiliate Canton Charge and head coach Tyronn Lue had ruled him out through Christmas Day, but when Thomas emerged for warmups with his team, wearing his uniform, there was still a feeling he would play.
As logic indicated, Thomas spent another game on the bench, cheering on his teammates. What was once a bittersweet process, or “slow grind” as he calls it, edged further towards the sweeter side.
It will be one of Thomas’s last times playing zero minutes while being active, and that was good enough for him.
“It was everything,” he said. “When I was out there during warmups, it was like I’m a rookie again, like my first game. I haven’t been in an arena like that where you’re warming up, you’re with teammates, that’s so new to me right now.”
Thomas joked that he tried to get into the game at the tail end if the Cavs needed a few free throws made, but that his coaching staff was not having it.
He will remain on the sidelines as planned for Monday’s NBA Finals rematch with the Golden State Warriors, but that is as far as Thomas has been ruled out.
With one scrimmage in the books, it was obvious to the 28-year-old that he would need more time.
“I have no rhythm, so there’s no way I can play in an NBA game right now and be very effective like I’m used to being,” he said. “Slowly that will come back and I’ll get a feeling for it, and I’ve also got to get into some shape. That was probably the toughest part today, running up and down and being a little winded. The basketball part, I had a smile on my face the entire practice because I felt like a basketball player again.”
Thomas immediately dismissed the idea of playing a game in the G-League, even for the sake of repetition. The Cavaliers do not practice often, so he will have to integrate himself with his teammates for the most part when he does return.
In the meantime, Thomas, the coaching staff and training staff are trying to find ways for the All-Star to get those reps in.
His team will be out west once they fly out to California and won’t play at home again until the new year, a game against the Portland Trail Blazers that is bookended with a back-to-back at his old stomping grounds in Boston.
That means more scrimmages in Canton, and perhaps more drills, despite Thomas saying that they do not work anymore. But the slow grind is grinding to a halt, and Thomas says he’ll return to his All-NBA self in due time.
“The hoop is still 10 foot, so I’ll figure it out.”