BOSTON -- The saying goes that every possession in the postseason matters.
If that is truly the ruling principle, it stands to reason the more possessions a team can procure, the better chance it has to be successful. Any player that can conjure up extra possessions simply through sheer will -- he'd be invaluable, right?
It would be a disservice to describe the Cleveland Cavaliers' Tristan Thompson in any other way through the Cavs' 3-0 start to their first-round series against the Boston Celtics.
Thompson has 14 offensive rebounds through the first three games. Boston, as a team, has 29.
Not only is Thompson grabbing offensive boards, but he has been the Cavs' most clutch postseason player based on when he's grabbing them. In Game 2, he boarded a LeBron James miss with 1:32 to go that eventually set up a James layup with 1:13 left to put Cleveland up by eight. Later, he rebounded a J.R. Smith miss with 43.7 seconds remaining, setting up two Kyrie Irving free throws with 39.7 seconds left to increase the Cavs' lead to 10.
Game 3 was even more dramatic. Thompson rebounded an Irving miss with 2:18 to go, tapping it back to Irving who found Kevin Love for a corner 3-pointer to double the Cavs' edge from three to six with 2:13 to go. He followed that up by rebounding a James miss with 49.9 seconds left setting up a Love 3-pointer to put the Cavs up by eight with 26.7 seconds left and effectively end the game.
"That's my best play call," Cavs coach David Blatt joked. "That’s my play call that I always make: 'Tristan, go get the offensive rebound, and kick it out to the three, and we're going to score.' And I do call that one."
James called Thompson an "offensive-rebound machine" after Game 3. The backup big man is averaging a meager 8.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in the series, yet as David Zavac of the blog Fear the Sword pointed out, he has a playoff PER of 19.4 on a usage rate of just 11.9 percent. In Game 2, he had 11 rebounds and zero shot attempts. He knows what he's out there for.
"I just do what I can to get our team extra possessions," Thompson said. "That's my role here on the team, just to rebound and fight for loose balls. Fortunately it went my way when I got that offensive rebound and kicked it out, and Kevin hit the 3."
The Celtics have challenged the Cavs in every game of the series despite being the No. 7 seed to Cleveland's No. 2 seed. The 3-0 series record could look a lot different without the plays that Thompson has made.
"Listen, you got to give all the credit in the world to Tristan for his just relentless attacking of the glass at both ends, his willingness to do the dirty work and his desire to get to the ball and to make possession plays for us," Blatt said.
Added Irving, who came into the league as a rookie with Thompson in 2011, and has experienced both the lean and lush times in Cleveland in step with him: "He's going to continue to go in there every single play until you stop him."
James said Thompson's continuous energy can have a cumulative affect on the opposition. "It's demoralizing for the opponent when a guy is wrestling with two to three guys down there and is still able to come up with it," he said.
After colorfully summing up his dirty-work efforts by saying, "I'll be a janitor forever," after Game 1, Thompson is trying to snatch that nickname back like it was a teammate's shot caroming off the rim.
"We ain't going to call it a janitor no more," he said. "We're going to call it, like, 'The Clean-Up Guy.' Just do the little things. Janitor is (done with), no disrespect. I'd rather call The Clean-Up Guy. Just do all the little things. So, we'll roll with that. We'll roll with that. We'll roll with that name now."