In wake of Isaiah Thomas return to Boston I, along with many other fans, have looked back upon the memories and joy IT brought the city of Boston.
The Day IT was Traded
The date was August 22nd, 2017. I remember thinking earlier that day, “Nothing is going on… again.” Typically, that’s your normal August/September day in the NBA world. Those two months are a barren wasteland when it comes to news. August 22nd, 2017, however, was not a typical day. It was about 4 o’clock when my phone started absolutely blowing up. People texting me, DMing me, tweeting at me, it was crazy. At first, all I could make out was Kyrie is going to be a Celtic. Once I got more details, I was shocked. Danny Ainge and the Celtics had sent, star point guard, Isaiah Thomas, a fan favorite, Jae Crowder, Ante Žižić, and Brooklyn’s 2018 1st Round Pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving.
Was I shocked at the package? No. It was going to take about that package to get a young star caliber player like Kyrie. A star point guard flip and sweeteners. Was I shocked that the deal actually went down? Yes! My friend and I had talked about a month prior to the trade about a potential Kyrie-To-Boston trade and it made a little bit of sense. Kyrie was younger, the Celtics might not have wanted to pay IT, and IT may had not been fully healthy. All of that wound up being the reason for IT’s departure, especially the hip. His hip wasn’t right. There were multiple reports out there that Isaiah injured the hip against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 15th in a game at the Garden, others say he injured his hip in the East Semis when playing the Wizards. All we know is Isaiah played through an injury he shouldn’t have, had to miss most of the Eastern Conference Finals, didn’t have surgery on the injured hip, and it has set him back to this day. The Celtics traded him because of his health, his Cavs stint was rocky in part because of his health, same with his ridiculously short Lakers stint, and now we’re seeing it with him on the Nuggets. IT isn’t 100% back yet and that, along with the fit, has him out of Denver’s rotation. Although Isaiah’s hip injuries have been a huge negative on his career, the grit and determination he’s shown trying to play through the pain shows what kind of person and ball player Isaiah Thomas really is.
The 2014-15 Season (A Preview)
February 19th, 2015 would be the day Danny Ainge flipped Boston’s cards forever. Parting ways with guard Marcus Thornton and a future 1st round pick (later turned into Skal Labissiere), Danny Ainge was able to pick up, a nice 6th man at the time, Isaiah Thomas. No one knew on that day what was to come from Isaiah Thomas. I remember watching him in a Suns game against the Wizards just a couple weeks prior to the trade deadline and thinking, “This guys not bad.” IT posted 18 points and 4 assists in 20 minutes off the bench that night and helped the Suns to a 106-98 win. No where in that performance did I think this guy could be a 29ppg scorer or be an All-Star or be a potential MVP. There was no way anyone was thinking that. That’s exactly what happened though. IT turned into all of those things just 2 seasons later. Why? He was given the opportunity to shine. When the Celtics officially acquired Isaiah Thomas, the team was sitting at a record of 20-32, best for 10th in the East. It looked like the Celtics should tank. The roster wasn’t great, the team was inconsistent, and the 2015 NBA Draft class looked fairly robust at the time. Once the Celtics traded for Isaiah Thomas, that idea flew out the window. His impact off the bench for the rest of the season was felt, as he posted 19.1ppg, 2.1rpg, and 5.4apg on 41.1% shooting from the field (up from his 15/2/4 line in Phoenix), and the team found themselves sitting on the fringes of the NBA Playoffs, after finishing the season 20-10.
Unfortunately, Boston met the, soon Finals bound, Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1st round, where they were swept 4-0. In that series, however, Isaiah Thomas stepped up his game and posted 22ppg, 3.0rpg, and 8.5apg on 42.9% shooting from the field on the road, in a tough environment in Cleveland. In my mind, the kind of performances he had after that year’s trade deadline, along with the performances he had during the Celtics short stint in the playoffs, set the tone for what he would become during his time as a Celtic.
The 2015-16 Season (The Building Blocks)
Entering next season, it looked like Isaiah was going to stay Boston’s sixth man, but things changed 3 games into the season. A 27 point performance followed by 25 point performance to start the season put IT in the conversation to finally be inserted into the starting lineup, and it happened. 4 games into the season Isaiah was put into that starting lineup and he never looked back. That 1st night in Indiana Isaiah dropped 27 points, 7 assists, and 2 steals on 9/19 shooting in close 2 point loss to the Pacers. From that performance, Isaiah took off. That season he averaged 22.2ppg, 3.0rpg, and 6.2apg on 42.8% shooting from the field, played all 82 games, lead the Celtics to their best record in 5 years (48-34), and received himself an NBA All-Star nod. In the playoffs IT stepped up his game once again, especially in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference 1st Round. Coming back to Boston from Atlanta, down 2-0 and losing their starting shooting guard Avery Bradley to a hamstring injury, the Celtics absolutely had to win to avoid an almost certain death sentence. Isaiah Thomas lost his mind in game 3. In game 3 Boston had blown a once 17-point lead over the 2nd and 3rd quarters and were staring an 0-3 deficit right in the face, meaning this 4th quarter was big.
Scoring consistently the whole night, Isaiah Thomas had 31 points heading into the 4th quarter. When he entered the game at the 9:13 mark in the 4th, things flipped. Isaiah would go on to score 11 points in the 4th quarter, totaling 42 points for the game, leading the Celtics to a 111-103 win over the Atlanta Hawks. Boston would go onto lose the series in 6 games to the Atlanta Hawks, but that’s beside the point. Isaiah Thomas finally had tasted winning in the playoffs, while also notching one of his signature playoff performances. The 2015-16 season was a nice building block to what the Celtics and Isaiah Thomas would accomplish the next season.
The 2016-17 Season (Take Off)
Despite what had happened the last 2 seasons in Boston, the 2016-17 season is when Isaiah Thomas really took off. That season he, in my opinion, solidified himself into Boston sports history. Night in and night out during that season Isaiah put his blood, sweat, and tears into his craft on and off the basketball court and it payed off in every which way. Crazy performance after crazy performance, Isaiah slowly made his way into fans hearts. That year Isaiah Thomas averaged 28.9ppg, 2.7rpg, and, 5.9apg on 46.3% shooting from the field, received another All-Star nod, finished 3rd in scoring, recorded a Celtics record 43 straight games of scoring 20+ points, lead the Celtics to a 53 win season, a 1st seed in the East, and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. It was a magical season for the 5’9 guard, who had the odds stacked against him since he was a child. His quickness, ball handling, ability to draw fouls, ability to make shots, and his ability to absorb physical contact from bigger and finish at the rim made Isaiah Thomas seemingly immortal when out on the court. IT, however, was a mortal and that proved true in the Celtics 1st game in the Playoffs against the Chicago Bulls. Just a day prior, Isaiah has received the worst news of his life. His sister, Chyna, had died in a car accident near his hometown in Washington state. IT was devastated. This was bigger than basketball and it didn’t look like Isaiah would be available during the Celtics 1st postseason game. He fought through the pain, fought through the emotions, fought through the tears though and played the game. Fans understood how hard it was for Isaiah to cope with the loss of his sister and how hard it was for him to play that day. The whole city of Boston was behind him. The ovation IT received that night during warmups and when he hit his 1st 3 of the game was amazing. Looking at it from my point of view, this is when the bond between Isaiah Thomas and the Boston fan base was solidified. The love couldn’t have been stronger. Although the Celtics lost games 1 and 2 to the Bulls at the Garden, they were able to find a spark and sweep the Bulls the rest of the series to make it to the East Semis, where they would meet the Washington Wizards. Isaiah’s greatest performance ever would come in this series, during game 2, on his late sister Chyna’s birthday. On the night of May 2nd, 2017 Isaiah Thomas left it all on the court. Scoring a career high 53 points on 18/33 shooting from the field, IT lead the Celtics to an emotional overtime win over the Wizards to put the Celtics up 2-0 in the series. That performance would go on to propel the Celtics to a series win over the Wizards in 7 games, where Isaiah showed up once again in Game 7, scoring 29 points and passing to 12 assists.
Things looked prominent for the Celtics heading into the Eastern Conference Finals, but things came crashing down when they met up with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland was just too talented and it showed right from the tip of the series. Isaiah was off his game in Game 1 and the Cavs were able to cruise to an easy 13 point win. Game 2 was where things went sideways for the Celtics though. Losing the game by 44 points, it wasn’t the only thing the Celtics had lost. They would end up losing their star point guard for the rest of the playoffs, as he would injure, his previously mentioned, hip. Boston was able to mount a miracle win in Game 3 on the road, it unfortunately wasn’t enough. The Cavs would go on to win the series in 5 to advance to the NBA Finals. Isaiah Thomas had played his last game for the Celtics, something none of us could’ve ever guessed.
During the 2017 offseason, there was concern surrounding Isaiah’s hip. Rumors about him potentially receiving surgery on his hip surfaced, but the Celtics ultimately told everyone he was fine and that he was progressing well. Clearly, that wasn’t the case. Isaiah Thomas was never the same after his hip injury and that shows present to this day. IT lost out on over $100m by being traded to the Cavaliers and lost out on one of the best experiences of his career. Maybe one day Isaiah Thomas can return to his former self, maybe one day he’ll return to Boston, in the end, I just hope he’s happy where he’s at.
The day Isaiah Thomas was traded to the Boston Celtics none of us knew what kind of impact he’d make on Boston sports in the 2 and a half years he’d be in the city. He was a fan favorite everyone appreciated. Watching him every night was a pleasure and I’m glad I was there for the ride. I’ll never forget IT’s time in Boston.
By: Seamus Zarlingo