The year was 2017 and the Boston Celtics were the number one seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals. All-star point guard Isaiah Thomas, coming off of a career year averaging 28.9 points per game and 5.9 assists, led the charge despite playing through what he thought was a minor hip injury. With the Celtics losing by a near forty points late in the first half, Isaiah Thomas would amplify the injury and sit out the rest of the series with Boston going on to lose in five games. Flash forward two years later and the 2016-17 season is still a topic worth revisiting despite the drastic changes for both the Boston Celtics and more importantly Isaiah Thomas.
Isaiah Thomas after scoring 52 points against the Miami Heat in the TD Garden. Photo via Steve Babineau.
With only the following season left on his contract deal, Thomas was set to hit big on the free agency market coming off his career-high play in Boston. However with the hip injury turning out to be more serious than previously thought, Isaiah's health and performance would be heavily impacted in the final year of his contract. With Celtics general manager Danny Ainge anticipating this, Isaiah was traded in a package deal with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for all-star point guard Kyrie Irving. Due to health, Isaiah would go on to play only 15 games for the Cavaliers before being traded again to the Los Angeles Lakers halfway through the season and playing just 17 games there. Averaging around 15 points per game in the sketchy year, Isaiah would not sign a max deal in the 2018 offseason as he had planned. Instead, he signed a one-year $2 million deal with the Denver Nuggets which would prove a drastic difference in his value. In a recent article written for the Boston Globe Thomas talks about what his injury meant for not only his career but the careers of his peers as well, quoted as saying:
"Sure I took a bullet for everybody and that's in terms of max contracts, all that. People not playing to get their max deals, I took a bullet for sure. But that was a decision that was made at that point in time."
Thomas would go on to to say his situation changed the idea of load management in the NBA and guys like current Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard learned from his story.
"But I feel like, yeah, even with the Kawhi Leonard thing, he sat out for a reason. He seen my situation. The list goes on."
However, even with all the sacrifices that resulted from Thomas playing through the injury in Boston he says he does not regret making the decision to play. When asked about it while playing for the Lakers Thomas said at that time he was "going through something way bigger than basketball" and that "basketball was the only thing that could really numb that," referring to the loss of his sister Chyna Thomas who passed away in a car accident at just 22 years of age right before the start of the 2017 NBA playoffs.
When I asked, Isaiah Thomas said he doesn’t regret playing through the torn labrum in Boston, despite all that came afterward. It was the only thing that helped numb the pain of grieving for his sister. pic.twitter.com/tRKWd5cyPh
Isaiah played through the emotions that came from the extremely horrible accident in the first round of the series against the Chicago Bulls and went on to score a career high 53 points in game 2 of the second round series against the Washington Wizards, which would have been Chyna's twenty-third birthday. A truly historic performance.
Avery Bradley comforts Isaiah Thomas as he gets emotional during pregame shoot around.
All things considered Isaiah Thomas looks back on his career with no regrets and looks towards the future for a new opportunity to once again prove he is an elite level talent. Next season, Isaiah Thomas will be playing for the Washington Wizards on a one year veteran minimum deal and Celtics fans will certainly look to support him from afar.