Isaiah Thomas cherishes adoration in Boston return

NBA.com Global on Mar 19, 2019 06:53 PM
Isaiah Thomas cherishes adoration in Boston return
Denver Nuggets guard Isaiah Thomas smiles as his acknowledged by fans during a video tribute during a break the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston, Monday, March 18, 2019. Thomas returned to play in his first game after being traded in 2017 for Kyrie Irving. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

By Dan McCarney, NBA.com

It almost seems like a lifetime ago, but it's been only two seasons since the pinnacle of Isaiah Thomas' career, an All-Star campaign with the Boston Celtics that peaked with an epic 53-point masterpiece in the second round against the Washington Wizards.

Thomas' postseason was done just seven games after that, sidelined by a lingering hip injury that would not only end his tenure with the Celtics but diminish his career to such a degree that he's on his third team since.

That team is the Nuggets, who needed just nine games after Thomas returned from yet another lengthy inactive spell to determine that he's not fit for a spot in their regular rotation; they're currently battling the Golden State Warriors for the Western Conference's top seed.

"It wasn’t something I enjoyed doing," Nuggets coach Mike Malone said Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) of his recent meeting with Thomas, when he told the player his minutes would be dramatically reduced. "I knew he wouldn’t take it well, and he didn’t take it well."

Thomas averaged 8.6 points on 37.3-percent shooting in his de facto tryout, a far cry from his 2016-17 average of 28.9 points on 46.3 percent.

Thomas returned to the scene of that peak on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) as the Nuggets traveled to Boston, where Thomas earned an affectionate ovation before the game, another shortly after it tipped off with a tribute video that brought Celtics fans to their feet, and then one more when checked in late in the first quarter -- sporting green kicks, naturally.

Thomas later explained the shoes had been custom-made for a potential Celtics appearance in the NBA Finals.

"This city is one of a kind," Thomas said before the game. "All I did was give 100 percent every time out, and they fell in love with that. That love is genuine. There's nothing fake about it. I just embrace it, because these type of things can be taken away from you at any moment."

Nobody knows that hard truth better than Thomas.

Unwilling to shell out a big extension for the injured Thomas with free agency looming, the Celtics shipped him off to Cleveland in August 2017 as part of a package to land perennial All-Star Kyrie Irving. Roughly five months later the Cavaliers traded him to the Lakers, who then let him walk to the Nuggets via free agency last summer.

His combined 2017-18 production: 15.2 points per game, 37.3 percent shooting and a middling 12.6 Player Efficiency Rating.

Thomas sat for the first 56 games of this season, hoping to let his battered body heal once and for all. But it made little difference as the high-powered Nuggets saw no need to force feed him minutes with Monte Morris solidifying the backup point guard role on a deep roster battling for their best record in more than 40 years.

The one thing that remains undiminished is Thomas' confidence. The 30-year-old insists he can be what he once was -- given the right opportunity.

"I just want a legit opportunity," he said. "I know I can play at a high level. Given the opportunity, I can be an All-Star, All-NBA, I can be all that because I physically feel great."

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