It was May 2nd, 2017. The buzzer sounded. It was over. The Boston Celtics had taken a 2-0 lead over the Washington Wizards in the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs in exciting fashion. By a score of 129-119, Boston took out the Wizards in an overtime effort thanks to superstar point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas finished with a whopping 53 points in what would end up being his most memorable game as a pro — and quite possibly, ever. His 53 points wound up being the second most ever scored by a Celtics player in a playoff game, with John Havlicek’s 54 atop the list.
Take it back about two weeks earlier to April 15th, 2017. Thomas’ sister, Chyna, died in a single car crash at the young age of 22.
Fast forward back to May 2nd, 2017 once again — it was Chyna’s birthday. Thomas, as emotional as ever, went out and had the game of his life in her honor.
"There was no way I couldn’t play on her birthday," Isaiah Thomas says of his sister, Chyna. "I wanted to win for her."
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 3, 2017
It would be a night for Thomas to remember forever. It would be a night for Celtics fans to remember forever. Thomas, sporting the green and white, put on one of those shows that no one would ever forget.
The thing about Thomas is that he always seemed to explode when his teammates needed him the most — in the close games. The fans of Boston had a lot of fantastic performances to witness, including a a 52-point outburst against the Miami Heat on December 30th, 2016 where he hit nine 3-pointers and the Celtics won by just three.
How about the 44 he had against the Toronto Raptors just under a year ago to date? Or the 44 he had against the Memphis Grizzlies in a 3-point victory December 20th, 2016? I’m sure the fans remember each and every dominant performance by Thomas, but the ‘Chyna game’ as some call it now will forever be at the pinnacle of that list.
Now, eight months later, he returned to Boston, only as a member of the Celtics’ Eastern Conference rival Cleveland Cavaliers. After being out for seven months with a hip injury that shortened his playoff run last season, Thomas was on rest Wednesday night. He originally made his 2017-2018 season debut Tuesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers where he scored 17 points and played just 19 minutes. When it comes to his recovery, he knew playing in a back-to-back was out of the question.
“I was out seven months. There’s no way I was gonna come back against Boston and play 17 minutes,” Thomas said, via NBA.com. “It’s too big of an opportunity to just a play against my former teammates, my former coaches, the city that gave me my biggest opportunity.”
How much does Thomas love his former city, team and coaches? He nearly went into the Celtics locker room out of habit.
“I love this city. I love this organization. They gave me an opportunity to be who I always wanted to be,” Thomas said. “I can’t thank them enough. So there’s no hard feelings for anybody in this city or anybody in this organization. I’m glad I’m back. Like I always said, it’s genuine love. And that’s for the rest of my life.”
In between the first and second quarters, Thomas was shown on the scoreboard monitors and received a standing ovation. He stood up, pounded his chest three times and waved his hand to the place he called ‘home.’ He asked that the team not do anything to honor him that night, simply because he would love to be able to be on the court playing in that specific game.
The next time the two teams meet in Boston will be February 11th, but that night is already devoted to honoring an all-time great in Celtics history — Paul Pierce. Number 34 will have his jersey retired that night, and Thomas isn’t necessarily set on the Celtics squeezing him in, due to the respect he has for Pierce. He did say, however, it would be great to have his family there to experience it if the team does indeed pay tribute.
“That’s Pierce’s night. The video tribute ain’t the whole night. I just wanted my family to be here to see it,” Thomas responded. “That’s what it came down to. I wanted to be able to play. I wanted my family to experience the love and appreciation of this city and this organization are gonna give me on that night.
“I’m not taking nothing from Paul Pierce. He played 15 years here. There’s nothing I can take from here. If they choose to do it that night, that would be great. I would be honored.”
In a classy manner, Thomas seemed to nullify the idea that he had requested that night be all about him. He has handled the entire ordeal very well, and it appears to be no surprise to his former head coach, Brad Stevens. Thomas shared a special bond with Stevens, and the coach described a bit of the depth when asked about his former point guard.
“First and foremost, I will always value him as a friend and as a person,” Stevens said of Thomas. “Lost amongst all the talk of where people play and everything else is the fact that you did get to compete together. I always appreciated that about him.”
The interesting tidbit here is that Thomas was also asked about his former president of basketball operations, Danny Ainge. After the trade, Thomas was quoted as saying something along the lines of possibly never speaking to Ainge again. Surprisingly, Ainge reached out to Thomas on Tuesday night.
“There’s no hard feelings. Only hard feeling is Danny didn’t send me no Christmas card this year,” Thomas said. “He sent me one the last two years. He could have found my address somehow. Have I forgiven Danny? He texted me last night. So, yeah, we’re good.”
Christmas card or not, it was clear the love that Celtics fans still had for their former point guard. Fans can look forward to seeing a (hopefully) fully healthy Thomas in just over a month from now. Considering the Cavaliers lost this one, it should absolutely be must-watch television.