INDEPENDENCE: The evolution of Tristan Thompson as both a man and basketball player has dramatically progressed over the course of the last week. The Cavs will say he has always been one of the team’s leaders, but never so publicly as recently.
Thompson defended his coach as a father figure last week and called any speculation about Byron Scott’s precarious future “bogus.” Then he responded with two sensational performances in victories over the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic.
He set career highs in points and rebounds against the Celtics and has totaled 44 points and 33 rebounds in the Cavs’ past two games at a time when the team was desperate for someone to stand up and take control.
As Kyrie Irving continues to shrink away from any public platform, Thompson is embracing his role as a spokesman — and he’s backing it up with his play on the court, too.
“Just being myself, just being a natural leader and speaking up if I see something is wrong,” Thompson said after the victory Sunday against the Magic. “Just recently y’all have been coming to me, and I’ve been speaking, so I guess you can say I’ve been a leader.”
Because of the position he plays and his immense talent, Irving remains the floor leader. But twice in the past week Irving has been given the opportunity to take a stand publicly and twice he declined.
Asked after a dreadful loss to the Brooklyn Nets if the players had given up, Irving passed and said he wouldn’t answer for anyone else, then embellished the point of his recent shoulder injury as proof he hasn’t quit.
The Cavs are incredibly careful with injuries, however, and insist his shoulder is 100 percent healthy. They wouldn’t risk subjecting him to further injury, particularly given his lengthy problems with staying healthy.
Asked prior to the game Sunday against the Magic about the speculation surrounding Scott, Irving again passed on the chance to support his coach.
“Until that time comes, I’m not really worried about it,” Irving said. “To even imagine that, I’m not going down that road. I’m focused on finishing the season with him and that’s all that matters right now.”
Thompson was so bothered by the speculation that he went into Scott’s office last Thursday and explained to his coach why he said, “All the rumors about coach Scott, hot seat and all that crap, that’s bogus. It’s up to us to go out and compete and play hard because we’re the ones out there. When he was out there playing, he won championships. It’s up to us to go out there and play.”
Scott conceded that he was touched by Thompson’s defense but told him to worry instead about his performance on the court.
“I told him, ‘You don’t have to fight my battles,’ ” Scott said. “Any coach would say, ‘I really appreciate the support from a guy like that.’ Then to go out and play the way he’s played has been fantastic. Hopefully he can continue to play that way.”
Thompson struggled terribly in the five games before the win against the Celtics, shooting less than 40 percent and making just 3-of-14 free throws. Scott saw the ball sticking offensively when it reached Thompson because he was trying to post guys up too often and pressuring himself to do too much offensively with the roster so depleted by injuries.
That’s why Scott used the opportunity during Thompson’s visit to his office last week to go over the mental aspect of the game. He told Thompson to stop worrying so much about offense, to stop hanging his head after missed shots and to get back to focusing on defense.
“Some of the best games I had is when I came out strictly about the defense, what I had to do against the guy I was guarding and I had some of the best games of my career,” Scott said. “I think the last two games as we talked when he came in my office, I told him he’s got to get back to playing good, solid defense, running the floor, being active, being aggressive and quit worrying about when you miss a shot. I told him to forget that, to play in the moment, go down at the other end and make up for it. The last two games that’s exactly what he’s done.”
When he coached at New Orleans, Scott said he had a variety of leaders for various roles. Chris Paul was the floor leader, David West was the physical leader and Tyson Chandler was the emotional leader. Thompson has embraced that emotional role in the Cavs locker room.
“That’s just him. That’s just the nature of Tristan,” Scott said. “Since I’ve known him he’s been a pretty talkative guy. He’s always talking on the plane and the bus and everywhere else we go. The one thing we couldn’t get him to do last year was talk [defensively] on the floor. Well now we can’t get him to shut up, which is also good, too.”
C.J. Miles was diagnosed with a concussion Monday morning and did not make the trip to Indiana for the game today against the Pacers.
Miles suffered a vertical gash on his forehead after he was elbowed by Magic center Nikola Vucevic in the second quarter Sunday and did not return. He will enter the league’s concussion program and must pass a series of tests before he is cleared by a league doctor to return to the court.
Luke Walton also did not travel with the team so he could remain in Cleveland for more treatment on his sprained right ankle.
Daniel Gibson and Dion Waiters did travel, but Waiters will not play as he continues to rehab his left knee.
Waiters was a participant in drills Monday, but Scott said the workout was so light he wouldn’t even consider it an actual practice. Waiters has not been cleared to return to practice but participated in strenuous one-on-one workouts with a sleeve on his knee after the formal practice session was complete Monday.
Gibson remains day to day with a strained elbow.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.