Iron Man: The Sequel

April 14, 2014
Tristan Thompson
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

As much as the league covets superstars who can fill up the boxscore, the arena and ESPN’s nightly highlight package, the real question that the NBA asks of all its players is: Can you bring it every night?

At this level of basketball, almost every player can go off for an isolated game or two. But what coaches are really looking for is consistency – something Coach Mike Brown has been searching for from his young squad all season.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more consistent Cavalier than third-year forward Tristan Thompson, who – for the second straight season – is poised to play all 82 games.

The Wine and Gold weren’t bit by the injury bug as badly as in years past, but the squad still lost 159 combined games to injury and Coach Brown was still forced to use 20 different lineups. Throughout the 2013-14 season, three different players have started at the point, three different players at small forward, four at starting center and five at shooting guard.

Thompson was the squad’s starting power forward when the Nets came to The Q to open the season and he’ll be there when Brooklyn closes the campaign on Wednesday night.

Last year, Thompson and Alonzo Gee each started every game for the Wine and Gold, becoming the first duo to do so since Andre Miller and Clarence Weatherspoon did so in 2000-01. This year, Thompson is alone in going 82-for-82, logging more minutes than any of his teammates and turning in two of the top three single-game minute totals this season.

The former Longhorn is one of seven NBA players to start every game this season – bringing his total to 188 straight starts (with one game to go) dating back to March 18, 2012. He hasn’t missed a game since February 10 of his rookie season, playing in 205 straight contests.

(Tristan – along with everyone else – has a long, long way to go to catch the all-time leader, A.C. Green, who appeared in 1192 straight games from November 1986 to April 2001. Green played in 1278 of 1281 games in his career, making only one All-Star team but accumulating three Championship rings.)

Thompson has done more than just appear in hundreds of consecutive games; he’s been one of Cleveland’s key components.

He leads the squad in double-doubles for the second straight year with 35 – good for 5th in the Eastern Conference and becoming just one of five Cavs in the history of the franchise to post back-to-back seasons of 30-or-more double-doubles. He’s led the team in rebounding on 39 occasions, posted the squad’s two best offensive rebounding performances of the season and, in a December 4 contest against Denver at The Q, grabbed a career-high 21 boards in a 98-88 win over Denver.

With one game to go, Thompson ranks 8th in the East in rebounds per game (9.2) and 4th in offensive boards (3.3).

As the season wraps up on Wednesday, sat down with the Wine and Gold’s Iron Man to discuss his durability and dedication – as well as how his 2013-14 season played out overall.

(And in case you superstitious types are wondering about jinxing him with one game to play, Tristan paused no less than three times during the interview to knock wood at the Cleveland Clinic Courts.)

Was there any point this season where you thought the streak might end?

Tristan Thompson: Yeah, there were two games for sure right off the top of my head. One was the food poisoning game against the Clippers, where I was just so drained out. But it was a West Coast trip and guys were playing well and I just wanted to be part of that and do whatever it takes to help my team win.

And the other game was against Houston right after the ankle sprain against New York. My ankle was swollen and even during shootaround it was bothering me a lot. It was still swollen to where I could have taken the night off, but I wanted to keep the streak alive and I wanted to play the game.

I’d always rather play than sit. Sitting, to me, is boring. So I want to be out there and play.

How much do you credit the training and medical staff for keeping you on the floor over the years?

Thompson: They’ve been amazing. (Physical therapist) George (Sibel), (head trainer) Steve (Spiro), (assistant trainer) Yusuke (Nakayama), (performance director) Alex (Moore), (strength coach) Derek Millender, Dr. (Richard) Parker, Dr. (Cianflocoo). Those guys are first class and they’re amazing for what they’re able to do for us. They really keep us safe and protect us.

At the end of the day, they want to do what’s best for our bodies and what’s best for the organization, so them staying on top of it and us letting them know when we have bumps and bruises is definitely injury prevention and strategy.

So you have to give them credit, and I have to give myself some credit, too. Taking care of my body, getting rest when it’s needed, eating healthy and just knowing my body – what it can take and when it needs some down time. Everyone’s played a hand in it; it’s been a collective effort keeping the streak alive.

Do you do anything special – training- or diet-wise over and above? Or are you just a durable dude?

Thompson: I think I’ve just been very durable. And I’ve been fortunate and blessed to be able to have the body and, I guess, the makeup that I have where I kind of tough things out. And my game is about energy, so me being able to do that for two seasons in a row hopefully says a lot about the player that I am and what I’m about.

Is there any specific activity in rehab or recover that you dread (but do anyway to stay on the floor)?

Thompson: What I hate is if I have to get extra treatment and have to get here extra-early to get it. That’s what I hate the most – messing up my sleep plan to get in here early.

Sleep can be a tough one. After games, it’s hard for me to sleep. Usually, after games, I don’t go to sleep until about 3 a.m. and if we’re on a road trip, probably not until 4 a.m. But I’m young, so I can get away with that. As I start getting older, I’m going to have to start going to bed at a decent hour.

Do you think your blue-collar style an attitude is a great fit for the city of Cleveland?

Thompson: I think the makeup of the city of Cleveland and the makeup of my game and the player that I am in this league is pretty similar. I think the city of Cleveland and I represent each other. Hard-workers, maybe not the most glamorous or the most flashy – but we get the job done and that’s what people in Cleveland are about. The laborers, the people that work for the city – people that keep things running – I think we play the same role. Hard-hat, blue-collar – people that aren’t afraid of the grit and the grime.

Aside from the streak, how would you categorize your season individually?

Thompson: It’s been a wild year. I’m very pleased with where I’m at this year. You always want more and you always want to be better. At the same time, I’ve done a lot of good things this year and I’ve done some things that I can definitely improve upon. When have you heard about a guy switching hands at the beginning of the year and his free throw percentage going up? (Although, knock on wood – I hope I don’t go 0-for-12 against Brooklyn on Wednesday.) But being able to do that and still be a productive player, it says a lot about the coaches I’m with and it says a lot about the hard work I put in this past summer.

Now that the year’s almost over, how does your right-handed shot feel?

Thompson: It feels normal, it feels natural. It’s who I am now. When people ask, I say I shoot right-handed and can still go to my left. But I’m pleased with where I’m at making the switch.

Now that you’re a self-confessed righty, will we still see (the lefty teardrop shot nicknamed) “The Mountie”?

Thompson: (laughs) The Mountie! I kind of forgot about it a little bit because I’ve been working on my shooting so much. But that’s what we have the summer for: to get back to The Mountie. We had a great first two years together, so you have to be loyal. You can’t just break up that easily!