INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — After an uneven start to his comeback from a torn labrum in his right hip, Isaiah Thomas says that his apparent regression his last couple games is not surprising.
“I knew it was going to be like this,” the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard said after practice Sunday. “I have no legs. So it’s going to take some time to get it back, even when I played well those first two games I told Coach (Tyronn) Lue it didn’t feel right. It was kind of fool’s gold.”
Thomas averaged 18 points in his first two games back from a seven-and-a-half month layoff — both wins — and shot 52 percent from the field (13-for-25). In his last two games since that positive start — both blowout losses — Thomas averaged 6.5 points and shot 19.2 percent (5-for-26).
“The shots were going in, but none of my movements, none of the things I usually do felt normal,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be like that for a while. I’ve just got to be patient. I’m my biggest critic; I’m not a patient person. So it’s killing me that … to be, I’m used to stepping on the court and being special. So now I’ve got to work. I’ve got to work my way back and get my legs back and get my legs back to playing at a high level.”
Thomas’s personal struggles coincide with Cleveland hitting the roughest stretch of its season — losers of 8 of its last 11 games — heading into Monday’s NBA Finals rematch with the Golden State Warriors.
“It’s exciting,” Thomas said, when asked about anticipating his first taste of the Cavs-Warriors rivalry. “High, intense game, guys really care about that game and really want to win those games. I’m excited about the opportunity to get back to playing again after getting a few days off and also trying to figure out how to get a win. We’re in that mode right now where we just need a win to get that confidence back and get our mojo back a little bit. It’s a great opportunity to go against a really good team and we’ll be ready.”
And if the Cavs aren’t ready?
“If not, it’ll be embarrassing, so the guys will be ready to play,” said Lue. “We’re playing the defending champs. They’re a tough team, they’re a good team and we’re ready to play and we got to be up for the challenge.”
The Cavs lost to the Warriors 99-92 on Christmas Day without Thomas or Stephen Curry (ankle) in their respective lineups. Since then, Cleveland has gone 2-6, while Golden State has gone 8-2.
Thomas said that the matchup with Curry meant “competing against one of the best.”
“One of the top guards in the world,” he said. “It goes back to when I used to play for the (Sacramento) Kings, we always used to battle. So it’s fun playing against really great competition. He’s a hell of a player. It’s tough to play against him, but at the same time he’s got to guard up, too. We’re going to battle and we’re going to do whatever we can to get our team a win (Monday) night.”
While the Cavs’ defensive deficiencies have been well chronicled — defensively, they currently rank 29th out of 30 teams — Lue says Cleveland’s offense can help the team get back on track overall.
“Be able to attack, scoring the basketball,” Lue said of Thomas’s expected role versus Golden State. “We know they’re going to switch a lot of things, so when we get into the paint and create something for himself or somebody else. We’re going to need that and then you just got to get back to making some shots. We haven’t made shots that whole (1-4) road trip, so getting back to making some shots, continue to play with pace and it’ll be fine.”
Thomas was also asked how LeBron James is handling the team’s latest adversity.
“He’s one of the best leaders I’ve been around and you learn from that, you learn from a great player like him,” he said. “Collectively as a group it can’t be all on him. We have to all be a star in our role. Whatever role we have on this team, have to be a star in it, have to put your egos aside. They always say we go through this rough stretch, I don’t believe in that. That’s all mental. Got to figure it out and got to just put your pride aside and do whatever it takes to win that particular game. We have a tough one on Monday, but we will be ready.”