Tomase: In appreciation of Isaiah Thomas, the improbable star who made rebirth of Celtics possible
The Celtics used the last pick in the 2011 draft to acquire the first pick in the 2011 draft, because of course they did. It’s about the only way they would’ve parted with Isaiah Thomas.
We’ll have plenty of time over the next decade to grade the Kyrie Irving trade. We’ll judge it by whether the Celtics contend for titles and hopefully win one. In the meantime, fans have every right to feel excited.
But before we turn our attention to the future, it would be doing Thomas a disservice not to acknowledge his impact on the franchise.
A case can be made that the single biggest figure in this improbable Celtics renaissance isn’t Danny Ainge or even head coach Brad Stevens, but diminutive No. 4.
Ainge had to acquire him, and Stevens had maximize his skills, but Thomas made it happen. He transformed the Celtics from lottery also-rans to a playoff squad mere weeks after his 2015 arrival.
Even more importantly, he made them a destination again. Without Thomas, Al Horford doesn’t leave the Hawks to sign here in free agency. A year later, Thomas’s presence helped sell swingman Gordon Hayward on Boston. Neither of those moves happens without Thomas putting the Celtics back on the map as not just a contender, but one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA.
His arrival from Phoenix in an under-the-radar 2015 deadline deal changed everything. He helped the Celtics squeak in as the No. 8 seed just one year after winning only 25 games. The following season, he made the All-Star team and propelled the Celtics to the No. 5 seed in the East and their first playoff victory since the final days of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
And then last year, The King in the Fourth took his game to ridiculous levels, challenging Larry Bird’s team-record single-season scoring average of 29.9 points (he finished at 28.9), earning a second-team All-NBA nod, and finishing fifth in the MVP voting.
But the numbers only tell half the story. Along the way, Thomas became one of the most adored athletes in Boston.
He loved being a Celtic, embraced being the face of the franchise, and connected with Bostonians in record time. When he drilled a big shot in the closing minutes at the Garden, pointed to his watch because we all knew what time it was, and rattled the building with the P.A. echoes of, “I.T. . . FOR THREEEEEE!” the Celtics felt every bit as relevant as during the glory days of the second Big Three.
When his sister died in a tragic car accident on the eve of the playoffs, Thomas played through his grief, periodically breaking down on the sidelines and inscribing her initials on his sneakers. We understood the depths of his loss, because we’ve all experienced it. What we couldn’t imagine was mourning so publicly. Who loses someone and then has to put themselves out there in front of 20,000 screaming fans, and millions more watching on TV?
When he lost a tooth fighting through a screen against the Wizards, that didn’t stop him either. He underwent hours of dental surgery, and then returned with his signature game in Celtics green, dropping a career-high 53 points in an overtime Game 2 victory. The image of Thomas rising high to drill the clinching double-clutch jumper over Markieff Morris while falling to his back for the and-one will be the lasting image of his Celtics career.
The limits of a Thomas-led team became too real for Ainge to accept, however, which is why he swung this blockbuster. Thomas tended to get bottled up in the playoffs, and his fearless style of play at the rim made him a perpetual injury risk. Like a Patriots slot receiver, you had to ask how many hits he could take, especially once he hurt his hip and shut it down in the conference finals. He still hasn’t fully recovered months later.
Celtics fans know better than to bet against him, however, and none of us will be surprised if his (presumably) only season alongside King James ends in another Finals matchup with the Warriors.
If and when that day comes, we shouldn’t have a hard time picking sides. The Celtics may have made Thomas a superstar, but he made them a destination. Whatever Irving accomplishes in green, we should never forget how this all started, and whom we have to thank.
Full article @ Tomase: In appreciation of Isaiah Thomas, the improbable star who made rebirth of Celtics possible
Source: GreenStreet Blog