What a decade this was in New England sports! As we move into the 2020s, join NESN.com in looking back at the decade that was with the best Celtics team of 2010-2019! (And check out the rest of our “Best of the Decade” content here.)
The 2016-17 Boston Celtics weren’t the most talented team in franchise history. Heck, they weren’t even the most talented team this decade.
But what that group lacked, it more than made up for in grit, perseverance and a legitimate desire to play for and with each other.
Let’s not get too carried away, though: The ’16-’17 C’s had its share of star players, and none shined brighter than Isaiah Thomas. The diminutive point guard took his game to new heights, averaging 28.9 points per game. Only James Harden and Russell Westbrook scored more than No. 4.
With Thomas leading the way, you knew you were getting the Celtics’ best effort, whether it was a Saturday night prime-time game or a Tuesday in February. Their signature win came March 8 at Golden State, where the Celtics held the 52-11 Warriors to just 86 points.
Boston went on to win 53 games in the regular season, cruising to a division title and securing the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Then, just as the playoffs were to begin, tragedy struck. Thomas’ sister, Chyna, died in a car crash one day before Boston’s first-round series with Chicago. Thomas all the while played, and played well, although the Bulls pushed Boston to the brink before the C’s advanced.
A series with Washington followed. In an emotionally charged Game 2, on what would have been Thomas’ sister’s 23rd birthday, the star guard went off for 53 points in an overtime win.
A return to the Eastern Conference finals and a date with LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers was tantalizing. Instead, it’s among the biggest “What-ifs” of the decade, as Thomas went down with a hip injury early in the series. He played in just two games as the Celtics were swept by the far better team.
That playoff loss ultimately signaled the end of Thomas’ time in Boston. The Celtics traded him in the offseason to Cleveland as part of a deal for Kyrie Irving. Thomas, still battling back after the hip injury, has played in just 64 games since leaving Boston, but the hullabaloo around his returns to The Hub since is proof of the bond he and the 2017 Celtics were able to build with the region during their incredible season.