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LeBron James raves about Tristan Thompson’s ability to defend guards

lebron james tristan thompson

Last night, the NBA’s defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers took a commanding 3-0 lead in their Eastern Conference Semifinal round series against the Toronto Raptors by way of a 115-94 victory.

Typically, LeBron James runs the show when the second unit is on the floor. However, keen-eyed Cavs fans may have noticed that head coach Tyronn Lue elected to insert Tristan Thompson at Channing Frye‘s normal position in the final frame of play in last night’s game.

Coach Lue’s decision proved to be effective. With Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving resting on the bench, Thompson and James began punishing the Raptors with various pick-and-roll plays. Thompson also did a fine job of defending Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, a fact coach Lue spoke to members of the media about during his post-dame availability.

Via Joe Vardon of cleveland.com:

“Starting Tristan in that fourth quarter and Bron together when they went to that pick-and-roll instead of blitzing and being in scramble mode, we were able to switch and put Tristan on (DeMar) DeRozan,” Lue said.

DeRozan was having a great game until coach Lue made the lineup change. His mid-range jumper was falling and the Cavs were looking for answers. In fact, DeRozan had 36 points thought the first 34 minutes of last night’s bout.

Thompson’s defensive energy and intensity really helped the Cavs lock in through the closing stages of Game 3. With Thompson hounding and trapping him on nearly every possession, DeRozan began to look a bit tired. After all, he was basically carrying the Raptors, who were without the services of Kyle Lowry due to an ankle injury.

“We’re comfortable with that matchup,” Lue continued. “We kind of made him stagnant and it took away what we’ve been doing throughout the course of the series.”

Thompson spoke with members of the media in the locker room after last night’s win to discuss his effectiveness against DeRozan down the stretch in Game 3. The 6’10” rebounding machine humbly gave most of the credit to his teammates.

“Just making him think,” Thompson said. “At the end of the day you want to use different coverages on guys and have them second-guess or question what we are going to do on the defensive end. Have to give our guys a lot of credit. We were moving on a string. Shump (Iman Shumpert) and J.R. (J.R. Smith) took the one-on-one challenge during the fourth quarter just staying in front and guarding him.”

Even James was raving about Thompson’s stellar defensive play in the fourth quarter of last night’s win.

“T.T. does things that doesn’t show up in the box scores,” James said. “Obviously we know about his rebounding ability, but his ability to switch out on guards, it allows the other four guys to stay home. He made DeRozan take a couple contested shots. Made Cory Joseph take some contested shots around the basket. It allowed us to clean glass. So his ability to be able to slide his feet vs. guys that are shorter than him, guards, small forwards, whatever the case may be, it’s big time for our ball club.”

Love, who knows a thing or two about defending guards on the perimeter (see Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals), may have said it best when he described Thompson, who finished Game 3 with nine points, 12 rebounds, and a plus/minus score of +16, as a “freak” during his post-game presser.

“That’s what makes him so valuable,” Love said of Thompson. “You can talk about the energy and offensive rebounds, but his ability to guard all five positions is what makes him special and such a key to this team.

“Like J.R, one of the guys that’s like I want to say, like one of the lifeblood,” Love continued. “He’s a freak. He’s one of those guys that never gets tired, kind of like ‘Bron, and he’s one of our very — I wouldn’t say understated because he plays such a big and boisterous game and he holds down the paint — but he’s sometimes overlooked or under appreciated. Not for lack of being Double T. He’s so huge for us.”

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