Monday night was a special one at the TD Garden, where Boston Celtics fans weren’t worried about how the team played or the result of the game. Instead, they honored a man who poured his heart and soul into the city of Boston.
That man, Isaiah Thomas, made his first appearance at the TD Garden for the first time since being dealt in the Kyrie Irving trade nearly a year and a half ago. The Celtics played his tribute video for him during the first TV timeout, earning a standing ovation from everyone in the Garden and a few tears from Thomas himself.
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) March 19, 2019
Thomas, though only spending three years in a Celtics uniform, has become a name that fans will always love and remember in Boston. The University of Washington product emerged as a star in his time in Boston but has never been the same player since. It was a mid-February trade in 2015 that led to Isaiah Thomas being dealt to Boston for a 2016 first-round pick and guard Marcus Thornton in the deal.
Thomas would make 21 appearances for the Celtics at the end of the season, coming off the bench averaging 19.0 points per game. Thomas would earn a starting spot for the Celtics in the 2015-16 season, playing all 82 games and starting 79 of them.
The 5-foot-9 point guard averaged 22.2 points per game, 6.2 assists, and 3.0 rebounds on the year, earning him an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve spot that season. It would be his first appearance in an All-Star game, and the lowest draft pick to appear in an All-Star game since the draft became two rounds.
The point guard’s final season in Boston would be the one where he etched his name into Celtics history, as he had a career year. Thomas would start the season scoring 20 plus points in the first 21 games of the season, and end the season averaging a career-high 28.9 points per game that season.
Thomas earned himself another Eastern Conference All-Star reserve spot that year and led the Celtics to a 53-29 first place Eastern Conference spot. It was only a day before the Celtics were scheduled to take on the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs that Thomas would receive devastating news.
His sister, Chyna Thomas, had died in a car accident outside of his native Tacoma, Washington. Thomas would bring himself to play the series, and dropped 33 points in the first game against the Bulls as the Celtics fell 106-102.
Following the Celtics 4-2 series win over Chicago, he flew out to Washington for his sisters funeral, then returned to the team to take on the Washington Wizards. Thomas would score 33-points in the 123-111 win in Game 1, and a 53-point performance – the second-highest total in Celtic playoff history – in Game 2 in a 129-119 overtime win.
Boston would take the Wizards to seven games, and win the final game 115-105 with Thomas scoring 29-points. The Celtics would be dispatched in the Eastern Conference Finals that year by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Thomas being ruled out for the playoffs with an injury only two games into that series secured the Celtics fate.
Following his time in Boston, Thomas has only played 42 NBA games, playing 32 games in 2017-18 and only 10 this season for the Denver Nuggets. Dealing with a hip injury has caused Thomas to be sidelined for most of the past two years, and with the Nuggets preparing for a playoff run next month he has been placed in the reserves for Denver.
With his contract with Denver ending after this season, Thomas has not shied away from hinting towards a return to the TD Garden. He most recently stated “I’ll be back” in a response to a Celtics fan saying “The fourth hasn’t been the same without you” while taking a photo with him pregame Monday.
Celtics fan: “The 4th quarter isn’t the same without you”
Isaiah Thomas: “I’ll be back”
Isaiah Thomas will be a free agent this summer… ??? pic.twitter.com/cqRx5Y1Ay7
— Celtics Direct (@CelticsDirect) March 18, 2019
Thomas is beloved by fans of the Celtics, and a return to Boston would be the dream for many. There is controversy swirling around the point guard position, as star guard Kyrie Irving has drawn a lot of negative attention from the media with free agency predictions, and backup guard Terry Rozier is on the end of his deal. A Thomas reunion isn’t entirely far-fetched.
It is likely that general manager Danny Ainge will do all he can to keep Irving in Boston, but for Rozier, the same cannot be said. Rozier has expressed his want to be in the starting lineup before, and after his performance in the playoffs last year, many teams may be ready to give him that chance.
Thomas, who thrived in head coach Brad Stevens system, turned 30 last month and is on a minimum deal with the Nuggets. With the Celtics wanting to save some cash for a hopeful Anthony Davis deal, bringing the two-time All-Star in behind Irving on a minimum may be ideal for Ainge this offseason should Rozier depart for a starting spot.
The Celtics will have a lot of things to deal with in the offseason, and Thomas may not be on the radar at the moment for the Boston front office. But as long as he’s in the league, Thomas will always have a love for the city, and the fans share the love for him. It’s up to Ainge to bring back the beloved point guard.