CLEVELAND - Isaiah Thomas is back on the court doing what he does best.
The All-Star point guard made his long-awaited debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, his first action since re-injuring his right hip on May 19 in the Eastern Conference finals.
With the crowd stirring, Thomas sat at the scorer’s table before checking in to a loud ovation with 4:33 left in the first quarter of the Cavs’ game with the Portland Trail Blazers.
It didn’t take long for the 5-foot-9 Thomas to get involved in the action as he quickly picked up an assist on a pass to Jae Crowder, who came along with him from Boston in a blockbuster trade last summer.
Wearing his familiar headband and No. 3, the playmaker missed his first shot and got fouled on a drive to the basket. Moments later, Thomas dropped a 14-foot pull-up jumper to pull the Cavs within 28-25.
Then, Thomas drove the lane and scooped in a left-handed layup while being fouled, the type of play he perfected in Boston. As he picked himself off the floor, Thomas smiled as Cleveland fans cheered a play they hope to see many more times.
Thomas missed the Cavs’ first 36 games while recovering from a serious hip injury that knocked him out of last season’s playoffs against Cleveland. Thomas was traded to the Cavs during the offseason in the blockbuster swap for Kyrie Irving. He’ll initially come off the bench for the Cavs, but could be starting as early as this weekend.
The Cavs are at Orlando on Saturday.
Coach Tyronn Lue said Thomas’ minutes will be restricted as he works himself back into playing shape.
“Once the minutes restriction is off, once the back-to-back thing is off and he’s able to play a lot of minutes, then it’s going to be different,” Lue said. “For now, we’re just happy to have him back and see who works well together, what happens and just go from there.”
Thomas has already been ruled out for Wednesday’s game at Boston, where fans will undoubtedly welcome him warmly. Thomas carried the Celtics last year, playing with a heavy heart following the death of his younger sister.
Thomas was forced to be patient while he endured months of sometimes grueling rehab, a process he called his “slow grind” before he was cleared to play. Lue said Thomas is 100 percent, but he’ll still need to prove he can take some contact.
“Once he hits the floor, gets banged and sees he has no damage or he’s not hurting, I think that will help him get past the mental block of coming back, being out for seven months,” Lue said. “I’ll feel good because I know that he’s 100 percent and I know that just mentally you have to get over it. I’ve been in a situation where I was out 10 months (following microfracture surgery) and I know I was scared when I first came back to play, but you know he’s going to be OK.”