Isaiah Thomas had one last wait. Sitting on the scorer's table, Thomas could see the end of his seven-month odyssey in front of him. And when the buzzer finally sounded and the Cleveland crowd erupted for a player it barely knows, Thomas took the last few steps onto the court and completed a trip he hopes to never take again.
He was all the way back.
Thomas showed flashes of what made him an NBA All-Star in his long-awaited debut for the Cavaliers, who snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Portland Trail Blazers 127-110.
"It's been a long journey for me," Thomas said. "I couldn't really see the light at the end of the tunnel. For that day to come the first couple days of 2018, it's going to be a special year."
It was a special night for Thomas, who scored 17 points and played 19 minutes in his first game in seven months - an impressive return to action for the dynamic point guard traded by Boston to Cleveland last summer. He added three three-pointers and three assists before leaving with eight minutes 10 seconds remaining and the Cavaliers up by 12.
Before leaving the floor, Thomas was hugged by LeBron James and coach Tyronn Lue, who pulled him close and offered two words: "Welcome back."
James scored 24 points, Kevin Love had 19 and Jae Crowder added 15 for the Cavaliers, who came off losses at Golden State, Sacramento and Utah.
Damian Lillard scored 25 for the Blazers after missing five games with a hamstring injury.
Thomas hadn't played since May 19 due to a torn labrum in his hip that ended his 2017 postseason with the Celtics and threatened to derail his career. But the playmaker, who inspired the Celtics and Boston last year by playing right after his sister's death, patiently stuck with his rehab.
And with 4:33 left in the first quarter, Thomas checked in to a loud ovation as fans cheered for a player they believe can help the Cavaliers win another title.
"It was a special moment,"' he said. "I haven't played in a game and you would think I was here for a few years and playing and battling in the finals with this team. But it was special for my family to be here, my wife and kids to see that, that's genuine love right there."
This was the first chance for James and the rest of the Cavaliers to play with Thomas, who will sit out the homecoming today (HK time) in Boston. Lue does not intend to play him in back-to-back games so soon after his return.
"What I like most about him is he has a chip on his shoulder for life," James said. "When a guy's got a chip on his shoulder for life, he's never going to not work hard, not going to never give it his all."
Cleveland failed to break away from the Blazers until Thomas and Dwyane Wade teamed up in the fourth quarter. Thomas knocked down a jumper and then fired a pass to a cutting Wade, who made a reverse layup. In the next play, Thomas buried a three-pointer to give the Cavaliers a 100-91 lead.