As someone who just got back to work after a month of family leave, and who has been functionally useless for the first 1.5 days of my return, I stand in awe of how Isaiah Thomas hit the ground running following more than seven months of rehabilitation work on his injured right hip. I have barely been able to effectively focus on webinars about information security after four weeks with my kids; IT took the floor after more than half a year of re-learning how to move and a trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and promptly scored 36 points on 25 shots in 40 minutes in his first two games. Respect.
Despite a strong first week, though, it’d be unfair to assume that Thomas had completely knocked the rust off. Sometimes you don’t even realize what you’ve forgotten until you’re reminded of it. Like, for example: you super can’t do this, Isaiah:
With just under seven minutes left in the third quarter of Monday’s visit to Target Center, the three-time-defending Eastern Conference champions trailed the host Minnesota Timberwolves by a smooth 30, and couldn’t seem to get a damn thing to go their way. Wolves point guard Tyus Jones drove into the paint against Thomas before kicking the ball out to swingman Andrew Wiggins, a former No. 1 overall pick of the Cavs who has made a habit of doing his level best to torch Cleveland every chance he gets as a thank you for trading him away before the start of his first season.
Wiggins drove right past J.R. Smith toward the lane, gathered the ball to attack the basket … and quickly found himself on the deck, thanks to Thomas slicing his right hand upward and catching the Wolves forward right under the chin with a whale of a strong-style strike:
While Wiggins collected himself — and while teammate Jimmy Butler went ahead and checked his pulse to make sure the young fella was still among the living after Thomas’ shot — the referees went to the video review monitor to take a second look at the play. Further review turned up pretty much what you’d expected upon the first viewing: this was an unnecessary and excessive hit above the shoulders, and a textbook example of the sort of thing that gets you a flagrant foul-2.
And so, Isaiah got an automatic ejection, and beat his teammates to the showers while the rest of the Cavs had to sit on the sidelines for the remainder of Minnesota’s impressive 127-99 stomping of LeBron James and Co. Thomas finished with nine points on 3-for-11 shooting in 19 pre-ejection minutes for the Cavs, who have now lost five of seven to drop to third place in the East, 5 1/2 games south of the conference-leading Boston Celtics.
As he left the court, Thomas did his best to make amends for his dry-gulching …
*I think* Isaiah Thomas apologized to Andrew Wiggins pic.twitter.com/6LAO4tDjXg
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 9, 2018
Isaiah definitely apologized before leaving the floor pic.twitter.com/t8FqMv92cs
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 9, 2018
… and, after the loss, he made it clear that he didn’t mean to garrote young Mr. Wiggins, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
“I’ve gotten numerous steals like that, going out like that,” Thomas said afterward. “It just happened I hit him in the throat. I apologized right away because I didn’t mean to do that. I’m just glad he’s all right.” […]
Thomas maintained his innocence when it came to intent, but understood the referees’ decision.
“I was surprised because I went for the ball,” he said. “But I know anything around the head is really … especially if it looks bad, you’re going to probably be thrown out. I just made sure he was good, made sure he knew I had no intention of trying to hurt him or hit him in the throat.”
Well, that is another difference between me and Isaiah Thomas: any rust I’m still shaking off in the worst place is unlikely to result in me having to reassure my colleagues that I had no intention of trying to hit them in the throat. Always good to be reminded when the stakes are low enough that you don’t have to worry all that much, I guess.
Wiggins, thankfully, remained breathing and ambulatory enough to finish off another strong outing against the team that drafted him. He scored a game-high 25 points to lead six Wolves in double-figures in a game Minnesota led by as many as 41, and in which both teams wound up running reserves for the final 12 minutes. The Wolves have won nine of their last 12 to improve to 26-16, good for fourth place in the Western Conference playoff race.
The NBA announced Wednesday afternoon that Thomas has been fined $20,000 for “striking […] Wiggins above the shoulders.” The expensive wrist-slap surely isn’t welcome news for IT, but he and the Cavs can take some solace in the fact that Kiki VanDeWeghe and company didn’t decide to levy any further punishment; Thomas will still be able to suit up and take the court for Cleveland on Thursday night against the Toronto Raptors.
More NBA coverage from Yahoo Sports:
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