Isaiah Thomas a winner in Cavaliers debut

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Isaiah Thomas (left) and LeBron James combined for 41 points in their first game together, a 127-110 victory Tuesday over visiting Portland.

By Tom Withers Associated press  

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CLEVELAND — Isaiah Thomas had one last wait.

Sitting on the scorer’s table, Thomas could see the end of his seventh-month odyssey in front of him. And when the buzzer finally sounded and the Cleveland crowd erupted for a player it barely knows, Thomas took the last few steps onto the court and completed a trip he hopes to never take again.


He was all the way back.

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Thomas showed flashes of what made him a two-time All-Star in his long-awaited debut for the Cavaliers, who snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Portland Trail Blazers, 127-110, on Tuesday night.

‘‘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.’’

It was a special night for Thomas, who scored 17 points and played 19 minutes in his first game in seven months, an impressive return to action for the dynamic point guard traded to Cleveland last summer. He added three 3-pointers and three assists before leaving with 8:10 remaining and the Cavaliers up by 12.

Before leaving the floor, Thomas got a hug from LeBron James and one from Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, who pulled him close and offered two perfect words.


‘‘Welcome back,’’ Lue said.

James scored 24 points, Kevin Love had 19, and Jae Crowder added 15 for the Cavaliers, who were coming off losses at Golden State, Sacramento, and Utah. The Cavaliers won their 13th straight at home

Damian Lillard scored 25 for the Blazers after missing five games with a hamstring injury. Jusuf Nurkic added 23 and CJ McCollum had 19 for Portland.

Thomas hadn’t played since May 19 because of a torn labrum in his hip that ended his 2017 postseason with the Celtics and threatened to derail his career. But the 5-foot-9-inch playmaker patiently stuck with his rehab.

And with 4:33 left in the first quarter, Thomas checked in to a loud ovation as fans cheered for a player they believe can help the Cavaliers win another title.

‘‘It was a special moment,’’ he said. ‘‘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.’’


This was the first chance for James and the rest of the Cavaliers to play with Thomas, who will sit out Wednesday’s homecoming at TD Garden.

Wednesday’s game will be the second matchup between the Celtics and Cavaliers, who have developed a rivalry in recent years.

‘‘It’s not one of 82 because they’re the No. 1 seed and we have some history with them obviously,’’ James said. ‘‘But it’s not more than that. We want to go in there and play well.’’

Thomas took a couple hard falls, good tests for his hip.

Driving the lane past Shabazz Napier, Thomas dropped in a lefthanded scoop shot while being fouled and crashed to the floor. He got up and shook off the contact, clearing another important hurdle in his comeback.

Lue will keep close tabs on Thomas’s minutes over the next few weeks while he builds stamina and confidence. Initially, Thomas won’t play in any back-to-back games.

‘‘What I like most about him is he has a chip on his shoulder for life,’’ James said. ‘‘That’s just who he is. When a guy’s got a chip on his shoulder for life, he’s never going to not work hard. Not going to never give it his all. Not going to never disappoint you.’’

The Cavaliers were unable to separate from the Blazers until Thomas and Dwyane Wade teamed up in the fourth.

Thomas knocked down a jumper and then fired a pass toward the baseline to a cutting Wade, who made a reverse layup. On Cleveland’s next possession, Thomas spotted up in the corner and buried a 3-pointer to give the Cavaliers a 100-91 lead.

‘‘This is obviously our first time playing together, but you can see moments where he added a dynamic that we need, especially if we want to get to where we want to be,’’ Wade said. ‘‘Happy that he’s back on the court and glad he’s on our side.’’

Lillard played 33 minutes in his first game since Dec. 20. He made six 3-pointers and had six assists, but was unhappy with seven turnovers.

‘‘My conditioning was pretty good,’’ he said. ‘‘My timing was a little bit off with some of my passes but everything else, I felt pretty good.’’