BOSTON – If you look at Tristan Thompson the right way, as opposed to the left, which is the hand with which he used to shoot in the NBA, he is one of the most fascinating players in the league.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ center is virtually ambidextrous. He changed shooting hands in 2013. Most NBA players decided which hand to use a wee bit earlier.
“People think it’s crazy,” he said before the Cavaliers’ light practice Thursday in the Eastern Conference finals. The Cavs lead, 1-0, with the second game of the best-of-seven series with the Boston Celtics on Friday night.
“Anything in this world that’s not been done before, someone gets the flak, or someone finds something negative to say because it’s new,” said Thompson. “I won’t be the only one to do that. Someone else may try it down the line. I didn’t want to go through life with regrets. It was time to try something new. Couldn’t get any worse. Why not?”
Struggles at the line with either hand
Or could it?
Thompson missed ’em more than he made ’em at the foul line (49.8 percent) in the regular season, but he is making ’em more than he missed ’em (58.1 percent) in the playoffs.
Free throws have been the Achilles heel of big men from Wilt Chamberlain to Shaquille O’Neal. The humiliating deliberate fouling technique, the Hack a Shaq, will be one of O’Neal’s less treasured legacies.
Wednesday, Thompson scored 20 points, a playoff career high. On short shots in the paint and put-backs, he was 7-for-7 from the field.
“Any time you’re perfect from the floor in the NBA is pretty good,” said Thompson, who was 3-for-3 in the Cavs’ seventh game triumph at Golden State (and 9-for-9 in the last two games) in last year’s NBA Finals.
Thompson was only 6 for 10 at the line Wednesday and was Hack a Shaq-ed once. Yet he has not considered the underhanded, so-called “granny” shot.
“Never that. I’m a basketball player,” said Thompson. “I want to shoot it the way the rest of my peers shoot it.”
Big on the boards
Thompson also got nine rebounds, six of them offensive against the Celtics in the opener. Four of the latter came in the first quarter when the Cavs had a 15-4 rebounding advantage.
“It’s just me playing percentages,” Thompson said. “A simple example is if a guy shoots from the left corner, 70 percent comes off the side of the rim long, on the right side. Thirty percent usually come off the front of the rim, so it bounces to the middle of the key. Part of it is percentages, and part is my athleticism, my height (6-9) and my wing span, which is (equal to someone who stands) 7-2 or 7-3.”
Offensive rebounds negate up to 24 seconds of good defense and crush the life out of opponents. “It’s very deflating, especially on the road,” Thompson said. “You can hear how frustrating it is. You can feel it from the fans. The life goes out of the arena. I get excited about that.”
One of the players he most admired was Dennis Rodman, who, like Thompson, was a rebounding monster and was light enough on his feet to defend on the perimeter and on pick-and-rolls.
“Dennis could guard 1 to 5 (point guard to center in the playbook),” said Thompson. “I looked up to him because of what he brought to championship teams, in both Detroit and Chicago.”
A man at ease with himself
In an era of stretch bigs and celebrity athletes, the relatively unsung Thompson seems balanced and comfortable in his limited role.
He even kept his relationship with Khloe Kardashian private, which is almost unheard of in today’s around-the-clock news cycle.
Shooting 0-for-9 for his career from the 3-point line, Thompson is unlikely to morph into a “stretch big” anytime soon, although even 7-3 former Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was popping them late in his career.
Asked if he dreamed of making a three, Thompson said, “I dream of winning more championships.”