'A' for effort: Thompson's energy vaulting Cavaliers


'A' for effort: Thompson's energy vaulting Cavaliers

CLEVELAND - Two of the biggest plays of Tristan Thompson's young NBA career won't show up in any box score.

But in the closing minute of the Cavaliers' 106-101 Game 5 victory over the Bulls, it was Thompson who provided the intangibles and additional effort that helped Cleveland seal the win.

With the Bulls trailing by two with 49 seconds remaining, Jimmy Butler got free of an inbounds play and hoisted a 3-pointer from the right corner. The shot came up well short and caromed straight down off the rim, with an unclean miss oftentimes leading to an offensive rebound. As Butler hoisted the shot, however, Thompson found Bulls center Joakim Noah and put a body on Chicago's lone big man. Butler's miss bounced off Thompson's foot and into the waiting hands of LeBron James, giving Cleveland possession.

That next trip down, James allowed time to run off under 30 seconds before backing down Butler and putting up a fadeaway 15-footer. James' shot was off, but Thompson - as he had done all night - anticipated Noah's box out, swam around him and got a hand on the ball, tipping it back out into the waiting hands of Iman Shumpert. Shumpert then found Kyrie Irving, who was intentionally fouled and sank two free throws to push the lead to four with 17 seconds remaining.

Two sequences. Zero rebounds. Both potentially game-saving plays from Thompson, who added 12 points and 10 rebounds in 39 minutes.

"He's been in many, many, many closing situations and he's given us yeoman's work every time he's in there," head coach David Blatt said. "Sometimes you notice it more, sometimes you notice it less. But he's in the fray all the time."

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In a series featuring an All-Star starter in Pau Gasol - who missed Games 3 and 4 with a hamstring strain - the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Joakim Noah, a pair of skilled sixth men in Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic, and a 7-foot rim protector in Timofey Mozgov, it's been Thompson who has looked like the most complete frontcourt player.

In five games, the 24-year-old - going through the rigors of his first playoff series - has averaged 8.6 points on 61 percent shooting, 10.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 36 minutes per game. Thompson's net rating of +9.7 leads the Cavaliers and he's now recorded double-doubles in two of his last three games.

He trails only Joakim Noah in offensive rebounds per game among players still in the playoffs, and Tuesday night his four offensive boards led to six of the Cavs' 14 second-chance points - which doesn't include his effort on the Shumpert rebound, which resulted in two Irving freebies.

"(Thompson) worked his ass off to get three guys to go over there and box him out," Shumpert said. "Once the ball came to me I had the easy job on the play, if you really look at it."

When Kevin Love suffered a separated shoulder in Game 4 against the Boston Celtics, much of the talk centered on how James and Irving would be forced to step up their games. But that applied to Thompson as well, who averaged 25 minutes off the bench in the first round. Now he's logging more than 36 minutes per game against the Bulls, playing down the stretch in the Cavs' small-ball lineups and acting as the team's muscle, stepping in after the skirmish between Taj Gibson and Matthew Dellavedova and speaking candidly about it in the locker room after the game.

"We’re not going to let guys come around here and hit us or kick us. We don’t tolerate that, especially me," he said. "No matter home, away, practice facility, wherever we’re playing, we don’t tolerate that."

[RELATED: Kyrie Irving overcomes limitations to kickstart Cavaliers]

With the Bulls' frontcourt ailing - and a potential, albeit unlikely, suspension looming for Gibson - the Cavaliers suddenly seem to have the frontcourt edge in the series. Cleveland has now out-rebounded Chicago in three of the last four games - all resulting in wins - with Thompson leading the charge. His numbers have spoken volumes about his impact on the series, but as James alluded to Tuesday night, Thompson's value begins and ends with the effort he exudes, seen no more clearly than in Game 5's final minute.

"Tristan's been unbelievable. Through five games, I give him an A+ in effort. It's all effort with 'Double-T.' Can't coach a motor," James said. "You put him on the floor, he's going to make things happen. He has a knack for rebounding."

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”

With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury


With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury

Jimmy Butler won't be facing the Bulls a second time this season.

Butler suffered a non-contact knee injury on Friday night in Houston. The initial X-ray only revealed he didn't have any broken bones, but the MRI had to wait until Saturday.

The Timberwolves announced that the MRI revealed a meniscus injury in Butler's right knee. There is not yet word on how long the All-Star guard will be out of action, but if it wasn't already assumed that he wouldn't play against the Bulls, it's now certain.

Avoiding the ACL tear means avoiding the worse case scenario, but this is likely still going to cause Butler to miss a significant amount of time with about a quarter of the regular season remaining. An update from Shams Charania of The Vertical said Butler could return for the postseason.

The Bulls take on the Timberwolves on Saturday night. Butler dropped 38 points at the United Center in his return to Chicago exactly two weeks ago, but the Bulls won 114-113.

Butler posted on Instagram a reaction to the injury.

Saturday's game will be the returns of Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn to Minnesota after they went the other direction in the Butler trade on draft night last June.