Isaiah Thomas stars on Cavs debut
Despite encouraging start, Cleveland guard says he needs more time to return to pre-injury best
Damian Lillard outdueled Isaiah Thomas in a battle of returning All-Star guards yesterday morning (Singapore time), but Thomas' team had the last laugh.
Thomas scored 17 points off the bench in his season and Cavaliers debut to help hosts Cleveland top the Portland Trail Blazers 127-110 despite Lillard's 25-point night.
Thomas, who before the game said he was excited to show fans what they wanted to see after he missed the first 36 games of the season recovering from a hip injury, did not disappoint.
The 1.75m-tall guard made six of 12 shots in 18 minutes, missing his first attempt - a three-point try with 3:36 remaining in the first quarter - before making back-to-back buckets to close out the opening period.
He was quoted as saying on cleveland.com: "On a couple shots, I felt like myself for the most part, but still a little rusty and it's still going to take some time to get back, but my teammates put me in position to make plays and have the floor space.
"And they wanted me to attack so I tried to do the best I could in the minutes I got.
"I didn't think I would play that well."
Cleveland's LeBron James said of Thomas' return: "It was great."
"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."
Lillard was returning from a five-game absence caused by a right hamstring strain, but he had little trouble duplicating his past scoring dominance, reported Reuters. He also had six assists but committed seven turnovers in 32 minutes.
James totalled 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) snap a three-game losing streak.
It was great... it's a spark and jolt we need on our team right now.LeBron James on Isaiah Thomas' Cavaliers debut
The Cavaliers earned their 13th consecutive home win.
Jusuf Nurkic and C.J. McCollum aided Lillard's efforts with 23 and 19 points respectively, while former Ohio State star Evan Turner scored 15 for the Trail Blazers.
Portland (19-18) had won three of four coming in.
Thomas, acquired from Boston in the off-season blockbuster that sent James' longtime running mate Kyrie Irving to the Celtics, will not play against his former team on the road in this morning's game.
He got a standing ovation when he checked out of the game with 8:10 left in fourth quarter with the Cavaliers leading 102-91.
Portland led 56-53 at half-time and was within 91-87 entering the fourth.
Maurice Harkless' trey with 11:22 remaining tied the game at 91, but Cleveland went on a 12-0 run capped by a pair of Wade free-throws with 8:10 left to create the key separation.
The Cavaliers outscored the Trail Blazers 36-23 in the closing 12 minutes.
Portland are back home for two games starting Saturday morning against Atlanta.
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