Thompson Gives C's ‘Enormous’ Lift in First Game Back vs. Knicks

Brad Stevens stated just prior to Wednesday night’s tip-off against the New York Knicks how “enormous” of a lift it was to have Tristan Thompson back in the Celtics’ lineup.

A short while later, Thompson went out and proved his head coach right.

After missing 13 games in the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols, Thompson returned to action and provided Boston with seven points, eight rebounds, one block, and one steal. But his most telling statistic was in the plus/minus category: during Thompson’s 22 minutes on the court, the C’s were plus-24; during his 26 minutes off the court, they were minus-22.

That, right there, made the difference in a hard-fought, 101-99 Celtics win.

Thompson’s impact went beyond statistical contributions, as he gave the Celtics something that they had been missing over the previous three-plus weeks: an experienced interior presence who could provide game-changing physicality.

“He brings that energy,” said Thompson’s fellow tenacious teammate, Marcus Smart. “He really controls the boards for us, and he does a really good job at it. He does a really good job at getting us extra possessions, does a really good job of protecting us when we make mistakes on the defensive end. And then on the offensive end, he does a really good job at getting us those extra shots and finding guys and doing what he does best. So it’s great to have a guy like Tristan.”

It was particularly great to have Thompson back following a physically demanding, 106-96 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers the night before. Boston had been no match for Philly’s frontcourt on either side of the floor, as it allowed Joel Embiid to drop 35 points on one end, while struggling to penetrate the Sixers’ steadfast defense on the other.

The Celtics knew that Wednesday night’s battle wouldn’t be any easier. For one, they would be facing the league’s leading defense in fewest points allowed per game, and they’d be doing it on the second night of a back-to-back, meaning there would be no Kemba Walker to provide an extra offensive punch. And, on top of that, this was the same Knicks team that handed Boston its worst loss of the season back on Jan. 17 in the form of a 105-75 beatdown.

However, the Celtics used that 30-point defeat, as well as the previous night’s loss to Philly as motivation. And having Thompson back helped to fuel their fire even more.

“They blasted us the last time they played us here, so we definitely wanted to get a win tonight,” said Jaylen Brown, who logged the first regular-season 30-point, 10-rebound game of his career. “Tristan, he just added to the fight, to the physicality. We knew today was going to be a fight. We knew they were physical, and we didn't want to lose the fight. We had to win the fight tonight and Tristan led us in that department.”

What made Thompson’s fight against the Knicks even more remarkable was the fact that he was just returning from one of the greatest fights of his life after warding off the coronavirus.

“When I had COVID, I had a bit of all the symptoms,” he revealed. “That [expletive] was no joke for me. I wasn't one of the lucky ones to have no symptoms; I was in a 12-round battle with that joker. But I won. I'm here now.”

Though, Thompson also admitted that he was still dealing with some of the aftereffects Wednesday night while trying to get back into playing shape.

“For me [the challenge] was getting my legs under me and just getting my wind,” the 10-year vet stated. “I missed a couple of hook shots that I usually make, but that's just getting my legs under me. So just finding other ways to impact the game.”

Fortunately, he did find other ways to impact the game outside of the scoring column. He gave the Celtics the energetic, physical presence they had been missing over the previous few weeks and without him, they likely wouldn’t have been able to exact revenge against the Knicks.

“We missed him a lot,” said Jayson Tatum. “Just his presence out there and just how physical he is. It was great to have him back."

Or in Stevens’ words, it was “enormous.”

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