Thompson thrives as Finals starter, Cavaliers’ ‘heart and soul’

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – In this year’s balloting for the Kia Sixth Man of the Year Award, Tristan Thompson finished 10th. Which suggests that on a team comprised entirely of Sixth Men, Thompson might have trouble getting off the bench at all.

And yet here he is in his second consecutive Finals, and not just as a reserve or even a super-sub but starting. Eight of the players who finished ahead of Thompson in the Sixth Man voting are done, prepping for next season already, while Andre Iguodala (the runner-up for the award) and Thompson still are battling for the jewelry that will commemorate this one.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was a little surprised when Thompson received such little consideration for the Sixth Man, but Lue likely dissuaded some voters when — days before the regular season ended — he announced to the world that Thompson would start the rest of the way and through the playoffs for the Cavaliers.

The way they were playing by then — quicker, with pace and a focus on the 3-point line — stripped value from Timofey Mozgov, the Cavs’ traditional big man. So Lue instead went with Thompson, whose work when pressed into a starting job last postseason earned him a five-year, $82 million contract and the backing of LeBron James.

This time, Thompson’s work might help earn him and his teammates rings, along with a special status in NBA history: the first team to win The Finals after falling behind 3-1.

“He’s been a beast for us all year,” James said after Cleveland’s shootaround Thursday before tonight’s Game 6 (9 ET, ABC). “He gives us extra opportunities. He gives us a paint presence and we need it from him.”

While Golden State has been adjusting to personnel changes in the middle — pocket big Draymond Green was suspended from Game 5 and now starting center Andrew Bogut will miss Games 6 and (if necessary) Game 7 with a knee injury — Thompson has been a constant for the Cavs. He has posted double-doubles in the past four games and grabbed at least 10 boards in nine of his 11 career Finals games.

His increased role has led to bigger stats — 9.8 points and 11.8 rebounds in 36.2 minutes in two Finals series so far — without any change in job description. Lue called Thompson “the heart and soul” of the Cavaliers after Game 3, lauding his aggressiveness and energy in chasing down offensive rebounds.

“It’s a big-time compliment. I definitely appreciate that, Coach Lue,” Thompson said. “But for me, [it’s] just do my job in a new starting role. Having a high motor, being active, just bringing that energy and this spark every night.”

Thompson drew some chuckles from reporters when he shared his typical pregame routine. While James has been talking about his game-day viewings of ‘The Godfather” movies, Thomspon is an HGTV junkie.

“It’s relaxing for the brain,” Thompson said of the network, known for real estate-and-renovation shows. He added, though, that he would give an “all-out shout-out” until HGTV does a segment on his house.

As far as not shrinking in a big moment, considering how few big moments Thompson and the Cavs had before James came back to Cleveland in July 2014, the 6-foot-9 native of Toronto said: ” Go out there and play and — who gives a crap? — just go out there and play.”

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