With the return of Isaiah Thomas to TD Garden for the first time as an active player in almost two years, nobody seemed to care about the Celtics 114-105 loss to Denver on Monday night.
For it was the man they called “The Little Guy” who stole the show in just seven minutes of game time –– where he failed to score but did dish out two assists for the Nuggets.
It wasn’t a matter of if the Celtics would honor Isaiah, it was a matter of when. And when was established at the first TV timeout in the first quarter, when the Celtics honored Thomas on the jumbotron for the entirety of the break.
THE ISAIAH THOMAS TRIBUTE VIDEO
Boston loves you Isaiah 💪 pic.twitter.com/JiUxB87gT7
— Ev Singleton (@EvGuyBoston) March 18, 2019
But enough about what transpired through 48 minutes tonight. Let’s talk about the 24 hours leading up to the game that reminded Celtics fans of just why we took for granted the two-and-a-half years he spent in green.
It all started on Sunday morning when the 5-foot-9 point guard from Washington sent out a tweet asking if there were any open gyms in Boston because he would roll through if there were any good runs (pickup games).
Many people chipped in with ideas of where he could go to play ball, but one school, in particular, stood alone as the confines of Isaiah Thomas’ pickup basketball.
That school was Emerson College, a Division III school in Boston.
I’ll be there working out right when I touch down https://t.co/JDsJtcSbpI
— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) March 17, 2019
The Nuggets already were slated to practice there and with recent news of Thomas being removed from the Nuggets rotation, he found himself sitting off to the side for a greater portion of the practice. But like a true professional, he stayed late to get up extra shots in the Bobbi Brown & Plofker gym, with an Emerson basketball player sticking around to rebound for him.
After his shootaround was over, a group of my friends and I were standing on the balcony one floor above the All-Star point guard, when fellow Prime Time writer Kyle Bray yelled down to Thomas, “We’re short a player, you tryna’ play?”
After a little bit of an exchange, everyone beelined to the gym to get themselves into the 5v5 game with Thomas.
Thomas didn’t seem to be putting in max-effort throughout the game his team won 11-9; and why would he? Who runs the risk of injury scrimmaging against a handful of students at a DIII school who don’t even play basketball? That being said, Thomas did a little bit of everything –– and was all smiles throughout the night.
He even stuck around to take pictures with, I kid you not, everyone in the gym who asked. Nobody was turned down. Isaiah didn’t seem to be disinterested in the frenzy that took place around him, and he smiled for all of the pictures.
He went 1/4 when I guarded him no big deal pic.twitter.com/nDeTb6om58
— Kyle Bray (@KBray63) March 18, 2019
update: it happened pic.twitter.com/MYqXjlr3Bg
— Patrick Mulligan (@PatMulligan10) March 18, 2019
Bro thanks for the game. pic.twitter.com/SXPtpewyFF
— Jeremy Guerin (@JeremyCGuerin) March 18, 2019
Let’s just say this is a far more heartwarming story than the Blazers getting stuck in the elevators at the same college following their practice a few weeks ago.
But back to Isaiah Thomas.
The man was full of nice things to say about the city, per usual, ahead of his impending matchup with his former squad Monday night.
Starting from being asked about what it was like to play a pickup game at Emerson College.
Isiah Thomas on playing pickup basketball at Emerson: "It was funny…they were NOT basketball players."
— Dylan Rossiter ⠙⠗ (@ByDylanRossiter) March 19, 2019
I mean, in all honesty? He wasn’t wrong. I can confirm that the combined skill level in that gym was about 10 percent of what Thomas could’ve brought to the table if he truly tried to dominate.
Just take a look at this floater and tell me that the previous statement from Thomas isn’t the most accurate thing you’ve ever read.
Oh, Isaiah Thomas playing pick up at Emerson Coll….Oh my god that’s the worst shot attempt in basketball history pic.twitter.com/Z4rPIkfR4f
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) March 19, 2019
Thomas did expand on the statement that the handful of students he played against weren’t basketball players.
Thomas added: “They [were] just so happy to be able to play with me but I was also happy to be able to play with them. Those type of moments. you can’t, you just don’t take for granted and you just enjoy that. I enjoyed that last night.”
— Dylan Rossiter ⠙⠗ (@ByDylanRossiter) March 19, 2019
And it’s stuff like what I.T. said that makes him so beloved in this city. There’s a reason that fans up and cried when the news broke that the Celtics had traded him to the Cavaliers. Even receiving a player of Kyrie Irving’s caliber didn’t put to bed the anguish within Celtics nation the day he was no longer in Celtic green.
But his heart has yet to leave the city, or the fans, or even the team. Thomas wore green and gold sneakers during his return to the Garden, to which he explained were meant to be worn in the NBA Finals for the Boston Celtics. And it was this theme of championships that rang through a good portion of Thomas’ answers with the media.
IT asked if he thinks about what could have happened if he was never traded: “Yeah, we would have won a championship already.”
— Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) March 19, 2019
Thomas also added that the first thing he thinks of when he hears the word “Boston” is home. Which he directly attributes to the tragic car accident that took his sister Chyna ahead of the 2017 NBA Playoffs.
This is the heaviest part. What does Boston mean to Isaiah? Home. pic.twitter.com/EHiqeXyMdc
— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) March 19, 2019
Sometimes in life, it’s hard to refrain from being a fan. As a writer, our job isn’t to write about how we feel –– it’s to write about what we see and report on it how we see it. But Isaiah Thomas is a special case. It’s hard to look at a man who poured his heart and soul into a city, with all of the hardships he had gone through in his career and in his life to that point, and not root for him wherever he is. Thomas may not have been wearing a Celtics jersey on March 18, but the energy at TD Garden was never greater than during his tribute video and when he checked into the game.
This city truly didn’t deserve a player like Isaiah Thomas donning the uniform of our beloved basketball team. However, like most great things, you tend to only realize how fortunate you were when you no longer have it. That’s what the relationship between Boston and Isaiah Thomas feels like.
Thomas is set to be a free agent at the end of the season and, for the second summer in a row, Celtics fans will be clamoring to Twitter and flooding the mentions of Danny Ainge to try and convince him to bring “The Little Guy” back.