It was Flashback Friday for Tristan Thompson at Quicken Loans Arena.
The 27-year-old seven-year veteran showed off the form that made him such a key contributor in the Cleveland Cavaliers' run to the NBA Finals in each of the past three seasons in a 107-102 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Thompson, tasked with the challenge of defending Pelicans star Anthony Davis for much of the fourth quarter by acting coach Larry Drew, responded with his best game of the season, hauling down a season-high 14 rebounds, six offensive, scoring four points and blocking a shot in 21 minutes.
The 14 boards marked the fourth time in the five games since Thompson came back from a sprained ankle that forced him to miss nine games that he's grabbed 10 or more rebounds.
"I think it's just that time of year where guys prepare for postseason and in the postseason you've got to play your role and do your job and do what your role is on that team," Thompson said. "For me, that's bring energy and effort. It's around that time. So that's why I'm doing that."
It was a welcome sight for Drew.
"He played like the Tristan of old, I thought, in going after every rebound," Drew said. "Had a big blocked shot, I can't remember who it was against, but it was a big shot. The guy was wide open, he came in and blocked it. TT did a phenomenal job that second half."
A minute and a half into the fourth quarter, cold-shooting Kevin Love picked up his fifth foul. Drew had a choice -- starter Larry Nance Jr. or Thompson. He went with Thompson, and while guarding Davis, the Cavaliers outscored the Pelicans by seven points the rest of the way to notch the victory, their sixth in their last seven games.
Davis finished with just 16 points, shooting a paltry 6-of-19 in 37 minutes.
"He's guarded Anthony Davis before and he's actually done, I think, a good job against him," Drew said of choosing Thompson for crunch time. "That was a matchup that we wanted to take a look at. I didn't think the bench guys, that first half, I didn't think that they brought a lot of energy in that second quarter. We talked about it at halftime... they did a much better job the second half.
"When I put Tristan in there, I thought he did a really good job just with the A.D. matchup and then it allowed us, put us in a position where we could do some switching. And we'll switch Tristan out on a guard and we'll take our chances with it, but he really played really well."
Thompson admits he's heard many of the questions about his level of play and whether he will be part of Cleveland's tightened rotation come playoff time.
"The same fans that want to rip you up are the same fans that want to talk you up and want your autograph," Thompson said. "I'm not worried about that. At the end of the day, I'm doing what I've been doing since I've been here. If you didn't like me then, you probably won't like me now because ain't much changed.
"This team knows what I bring to the table so if you don't like me, it's cool. I still love you."
Thompson, who missed 20 games earlier this season with a torn calf muscle, said a lesson he learned from LeBron James years ago about taking care of his body has paid huge dividends.
Prior to the two injuries this season, he had been an ironman for the Cavaliers.
"I think it was my first year I sprained my ankle and I missed three games. Then I came back for one game, stepped on Chris Wilcox's ankle and missed another three games," Thompson said. "We were playing Miami and he told me, because I've known him for awhile, 'If you stay in the weight room, take care of your body, that armor, you're going to need that. That'll keep you from getting hurt.' I always took that serious. When the best player in the world gives you that kind of advice that the weight room helps you keep you stronger and prevents you from getting injured, you take it and run with it.
"That's what I've been doing ever since he told me that my first year. He might not remember, but I remember it like it was yesterday. He had no shirt on in the weight room with a do-rag on. With Mike Mancias."
Love, who made just 3-of-11 shots and finished with eight points and eight rebounds, praised Thompson for his defensive effort against Davis, regarded by most as one of the top-five players in the game and a candidate for the MVP award.
Davis attempted only four shots in the fourth quarter, one coming at the buzzer when the outcome had been decided, missing three of them.
"He's been a force, especially since Boogie (Cousins) went down," Love said of the Pelicans star. "For him to shoot that percentage and for us to force them into tough shots, especially down the stretch, Tristan did a great job.
"Have to tip your hat to him. He's our workhorse and always has been."
After Thompson suffered the ankle injury that took him out of the lineup for the second time this season, he decided to give up carbohydrates.
"My body is in great shape. It's up there with the best of them," Thompson said through a smile. "You can ask Derek Millender, our trainer, what the body fat looks like. He can let you know. My body, my armor is in top shape right now.
"Honestly, it's frustrating having the two injuries during the season. I've never experienced that in my career. It's definitely frustrating. But it was a good learning tool and I guess I had to pay the basketball gods back on my taxes."