Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics

Tristan Thompson finds old form, provides much-needed spark for Cavs

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Cavs center Tristan Thompson (Getty Images)

CLEVELAND - Terry Rozier appeared to have an open layup.

The Celtics guard barreled to the left side of the lane, but he forgot to use his outside hand for the layup. He didn't see Tristan Thompson coming.

Thompson, who trailed the play, smacked Rozier's shot off the backboard into George Hill's hands, and by the time LeBron James scored on the other end Thompson was celebrating. Thompson brought that energy with 13 points, 12 rebounds and two of Cleveland's eight blocks in a 111-102 victory Monday that sends the Eastern Conference finals back to Boston for Game 5 on Wednesday with the series tied at two games apiece.

Thompson's hustle paired well with James' 44-point effort. James, in turn, was quick to compliment Thompson's effort on the side of the court that's been inconsistent for the Cavs all season.

"Tristan has been everything for our defense since he got back into the rotation, got back into the starting lineup," James said. "He's just been who I've grown to know over the last four years. Just always taking the one-on-one challenge."

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Thompson remains one of the biggest X-factors in making that split possible. He averaged 11.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in those two victories and limited Celtics forward Al Horford to 11.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in Games 3 and 4.

What's Thompson's message? Keep talking.

"I think it's on the defensive end for us," Thompson said after Game 4. "I think we've been much better with the multiple efforts. Like I said, after Game 2, we just weren't communicating, and we didn't have the multiple efforts."

Thompson's block exemplifies that spark the Cavaliers needed in battling back from a 2-0 deficit in the series. It's one we've seen in the past, but this postseason has been a roller-coaster ride for the veteran forward.

Thompson was booed in the Cavaliers' regular-season finale. He scored just three points in three appearances off the bench in the Cavs' first six playoff games against the Pacers before a well-timed start in Game 7. He came off the bench in the series against the Raptors only to return to the starting lineup again in Game 2 against the Celtics.

On Monday, Thompson was back in a leadership role. He encouraged Kevin Love after the veteran picked up his fifth foul. He mentored Larry Nance Jr. He sat in the cold tub with Kyle Korver, who scored 14 points and added a signature play when he dove on a loose ball between Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart.

Thompson has re-emerged as that key player, one that has been pivotal in Cleveland's last three runs to the NBA Finals.

"When he had the time off, he really did a good job of working on his body, playing five-on-five with the guys, staying in shape," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. "He was a pro about it. You have somebody like Tristan, you've been to three straight Finals and he doesn't play, it's tough. He could have given in, but he stayed the course."

Thompson said the test now will be to take that same energy on the road against the Celtics. The home team still hasn't blinked yet through four games, and Boston doesn't need to win away from TD Garden to take the series. The Cavs forward figures to be a key role player in Game 5 - the Celtics will see Thompson coming this time.

Thompson's message, however, won't change. In other words, he plans to keep talking.

"Especially with Boston, they've got guys down and they're moving the ball," Thompson said. "They got it hopping. You can see coach (Brad) Stevens on the sideline telling them, 'Miss or make, push the ball, get the ball moving.' So, we've got to be ready for that.

"I think we did a much better job at home, but the real test is how we're going to play out there in Boston."

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