CLEVELAND -- It was during the final minutes of pregame media availability in the tiny visitors locker room at the Palace of Auburn Hills prior to Game 4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers' first-round series with the Detroit Pistons when Tristan Thompson looked up from the seat in front of his locker with an "OK, what do you got for me?" type of expression.
Comments made by Stanley Johnson, Reggie Jackson and Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy aimed at the way LeBron James and the Cavs play had become a major subplot to the series. And after Thompson wrangled eight offensive boards in Game 3, Andre Drummond tried to drag Cleveland's versatile big man into the war of words by dismissing Thompson's stat line as the ball simply "falling into his hands" all night.
"I didn't hear," Thompson told ESPN when given the chance to react to the Drummond dig. When informed of the quip, he deadpanned, "Aw, damn. That's pretty cool.
"I'm going to keep doing the same thing and hopefully they fall into my hands again."
He had a game-high 14 rebounds in 41 minutes, including seven on the offensive glass, to extend the Cavs' postseason mark to a perfect 5-0.
While James (25 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 5 steals), Kyrie Irving (21 points, 8 assists) and Kevin Love (17 points, 11 rebounds) occupied their regular starring roles against Atlanta, Thompson kept setting them up with opportunities to succeed.
"When teams play great defense for 24 seconds and he comes up with those rebounds, it's just demoralizing to a team because now they have to come out and guard us again," said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue of Thompson. "That's what he's done for us the last two years. We know what he does and we know what he brings and he knows who he is."
Thompson let the basketball world know who he is last spring, filling in for the injured Love as the undermanned Cavs made it all the way to the Finals. He was particularly effective against Atlanta in last year's conference finals -- averaging 11.8 points, 11 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in the series while racking up a plus-46 over the four games -- and only continued that effort to begin the conference semifinals this year.
Atlanta, which led the league in defensive field goal percentage this season, is used to getting stops. But those stops become watered down if Thompson keeps generating possessions.
"If you help, then he's active on the boards," Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I know it's more important that we make them miss first. That's our priority and then we have to have all five guys in there competing, getting after it. Credit to him. He's a good player. He plays off their penetration and shots well."
While Budenholzer conceded that his defensive scheme is working to some extent when Thompson is grabbing offensive rebounds -- because that means the Hawks forced the Cavs into a miss in the first place -- he didn't consider the psychological impact Thompson can make with those boards.
"It can definitely be deflating for a defense," Irving said. "They play good defense for 24 seconds, we get up a pretty decent shot, and then Tristan comes up over the top and gets an offensive rebound. It's great for us."
Is it something about the Hawks that unleashes Thompson's game?
"Every series is different," Thompson said following the game as he shared the podium with James after adding eight points, two assists and two blocks to his rebound total. "Against the Hawks, in terms of [Paul] Millsap and [Al] Horford, we kind of weigh about the same amount, the same active bigs -- for me it's just staying with it on the glass.
"The first half I only had two offensive rebounds, but I'm just going to keep hitting the glass every possession, and as the fourth quarter, third quarter hits -- that's when I try to use my technique to be able to create second possessions for my teammates."
Thompson, at 6-foot-10, 238 pounds, is indeed in the same size range as Horford (6-10, 245) and Millsap (6-8, 246), prompting teammate Richard Jefferson to suggest that Atlanta had "two Tristans" when previewing the series. It wasn't lost on anyone that Jefferson was comparing two of the Hawks' best players to someone considered to be a bit player for the Cavs.
"Just take the challenge," Thompson said. "Horford and Millsap are both All-Stars and two terrific players, very good players in our league, so for me as a young guy I want to take advantage of an opportunity. I guess it's extra motivation just because you're playing against guys who are All-Stars and very talented. Just try to come with my hard hat and make it tough for them."
Thompson traded in his hard hat for a navy blue, wide-brimmed Stetson-style hat that he removed just before walking up the steps to the postgame podium. James, who passed Michael Jordan in career postseason wins on Monday with 120, was asked if Thompson serves as the Dennis Rodman to his MJ as he sat beside him.
"I think what Dennis did for the Bulls -- on the floor, make sure we note that part -- Double T does for our team," James said, referring to Thompson's nickname.
While surely Rodman might have picked feather boa over Stetson as his flashy fashion choice, there weren't rebounds just falling from the sky into his hands, either.
"Just giving us extra possessions, defending guys that are sometimes bigger than him, defending guys that are sometimes smaller than him," James continued. "We know that every night he's going to give us everything that he got, and a lot of it sometimes doesn't show up in the box score. But what he does on the glass is huge for our team."