Who knows? There could very well be nights when Tristan Thompson steps on the court at the Air Canada Centre and makes it his own. But Wednesday was not one of them. In the words of his head coach, he “didn’t play well at all.”
“But,” Byron Scott added, “he was not the only one.”
The Toronto Raptors pounded Thompson and the Cleveland Cavaliers 92-77, a score that flattered the visitors. The Raptors held the Cavaliers to 29.6 per cent shooting from the field, not far off the two lowest opponents’ figures in club history, including the lowest: a 23.9-per-cent performance by the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 7, 2002.
Thompson, a native of Brampton, Ont., who was chosen fourth overall in last year’s NBA draft, received a polite round of applause from an announced crowd of 14,468 when he entered the game with 10 minutes 51 seconds gone in the first quarter. It was a strangely subdued and in many ways disappointing response, considering Thompson is the highest-drafted Canadian-born player ever, and is widely considered to be the leader of the “next wave” of Canadian players who will take over from the likes of Steve Nash. They include the protégés of Ro Russell, whose Grassroots program is a pipeline to U.S. colleges and includes guards Myck Kabongo and Junior Cadougan among others.
Thompson was clearly out of sorts compared to his 12-point, five-rebound debut in the season opener against the Raptors. With 200 friends and family members looking on, the product of St. Marguerite d’Youville Secondary School, a pair of U.S.-based prep schools and the University of Texas went 0-for-5 in 16 minutes 27 seconds, scoring his only point from the free-throw line and collecting three rebounds.
The Raptors were reminded before the game by head coach Dwane Casey that the Cavaliers’ second unit led the NBA with 46.8 points off the bench. Among those who took the lesson to heart was James Johnson, who came into the game with Anthony Carter with 4 minutes 20 seconds left in the first quarter and the Cavaliers holding a 15-13 lead. DeMar DeRozan drained two jumpers to put the Raptors in front 21-18 by the end of the quarter and the Raptors kept coming.
“Every time we made a run they made a miracle three and broke our backs,” Scott said.
Andrea Bargnani had 31 points and was 11-for-16 from the field with seven boards. DeRozan was 5-for-8 from three-point range and had 25 points.
Thompson, one of seven players with a year or less experience on a club that averages just 3.33 years experience, has carved out a niche for himself as part of that unit, averaging 9.8 points while shooting .553 from the floor and collecting 26 rebounds. He had career highs in a 115-101 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday with 16 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes. But this was his first experience playing back-to-back NBA games, something he’ll need to get used to with the lockout-necessitated 66-game schedule.
“I didn’t have any pressure at all, there are people who take care of that stuff for me,” Thompson said when asked if family demands might have interfered. “Coach Scott is honest. Him saying I didn’t play well is true.”
Bizarrely, fans at the ACC spent more time booing Cavaliers rookie point guard Kyrie Irving, the first pick overall in the draft and a player many of them would have died for on draft day. But things change.
“When you have a young team like we have, you don’t know about things until you go through it,” Scott said. “They now know how tough back-to-back games are, especially when it’s in another city.”
History suggests Thompson will take it to heart.