BOSTON — It’s been nearly two years since Isaiah Thomas was delivering one memorable postseason performance after another for the Boston Celtics, all with his hip fighting against him while he coped with the tragic loss of his sister.
At that point, it felt like he was in the midst of what ultimately would be remembered as maybe the most exciting chapter of his a lengthy Celtics career.
But there he was Monday night, with a large crowd of media around him, preparing to play for the Denver Nuggets, his third team post-Celtics. Even him getting into the game remained in question, as he had been phased out of Nuggets coach Michael Malone’s eight-man rotation, having not gotten any minutes in Denver’s last three games. However, with 2:42 left in the first quarter, Thomas did check into the game.
Regardless of his career trajectory, Thomas left his mark on the Celtics, and the city of Boston as a whole.
Monday will be the first game in Boston since Thomas was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the package that returned Kyrie Irving that the guard will be available to play. Beforehand, Thomas was asked about the possibility of one day returning to the Celtics.
His response was pretty simple.
“At some point,” Thomas said, before explaining the impact the Celtics have had on him.
“This was some of the most fun times of my career. I turned into a superstar here, the world knew my name when I played for the Boston Celtics — not saying they don’t now. But playing for the Celtics changed my whole career, on and off the floor. This city and this organization treated my family with 100 percent respect. And, you know, decisions happen. I mean, I never hold no grudge against anybody.
“You never know what can happen. My options are always open no matter what it is, and I mean if I end up back here at some point, that’ll make the story that much better.”
The fallout of the trade was a predictably messy one, with Thomas not making it a secret that the move was jarring and not something he wanted. He admitted Monday that at the root of it, he really was just hurt — both emotionally and physically.
“I was mostly hurt (emotionally),” Thomas said. “I understand the business, and I understand a businessman made a business move, so it wasn’t about that. It was what I did for this city and what I went through, so I felt like it should’ve went down a little differently, but it didn’t. I was hurt for a little while, and I think the biggest thing for me was I was hurt because I was physically hurt for so long and I wasn’t able to play. I think if that business decision went down and I was healthy, I would’ve been fine with it because I would’ve been able to hoop right away.
“Things happen, like I said I don’t hold grudges against nobody,” Thomas continued. “All these guys in this organization, from the ball boys to the video guys to the community relation people, I have all love for. We steady communicate monthly and they ask about my family and all that. So it’s bigger than basketball.”
Thomas still has no shortage of fans remaining in the Celtics organization, including head coach Brad Stevens.
“I think when you look back on those couple of years, I haven’t really thought about that a ton, but when you think about second team All-NBA and 29 (points) a game — he had special, special years,” Stevens said. “We really had a blast kind of following him. When you think about, obviously all the fourth quarter heroics, but he just played. He always wanted to play, he was always super impressive to be around on a day-to-day basis. So I guess that never surprises you when you’re around guys that approach the game like that.
“That team took on his disposition,” Stevens added. “He is a competitor, he loves to win, he loves to work and he has a chip on his shoulder. And that’s been a huge driver for him and he was a blast to be around. Again, I look forward to the reception that he will receive here tonight.”
Thomas had a tribute video played for him Monday night, which was met with a massive ovation.
Video aside the point remains that both Thomas and the Celtics benefited from his run in Boston. And no matter what twists and turns the remainder of the 30-year-old’s career takes, it’s clear Boston always will be home to him.
Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images