Isaiah Thomas has his moment, but will it be the last?


BOSTON – It's the moment when Isaiah Thomas had always dreamed.

For years, the diminutive guard has rebounded from team to team, constantly seeking two things: respect and a home. Here, playing for the Boston Celtics, Thomas had found both.

However, he has not managed to pick them up since the Celtics traded him in 2017. And, while Thomas was walking slowly from the visitors' tunnel to the Denver Nuggets bench at 7:06 of the first quarter of Monday night game at TD Garden while a homage video tribute to his two seasons at Boston was playing on the Jumbotron above him, it seemed to hit him both at the same time.

"I was moved," Thomas will say later. "I almost cried."

At the end of the video, Thomas greeted the crowd – first making a peace sign, then patting his left wrist twice, indicating that he was acting, for the last time , from "IT Time" – as a standing ovation for him, and his accomplishments in Boston lasted more than a minute.

"It was special," Thomas will say later.

"That was all, I thank them for it.

"It means a lot."

It was a reminder of the particularity of his race here, as well as his relationships with these fans. It was also a reminder of the distance that separates him from this player today.

Time is catching everyone eventually on a basketball court. Some athletes – quarterbacks, pitchers, golfers are all examples – can at least temporarily overcome their age through their talent. In these cases, the brain can compensate for what the body is missing.

Basketball, however, is not one of those sports. Of course, some of the big ones managed to last until the late thirties. But most of these players – Tim Duncan and Karl Malone, for example – have another thing that does not change with age: size. Whether someone is 20 or 40 years old, he stays 7 feet tall.

Or, in the case of Isaiah Thomas, they remain 5 feet 9. (May be.)

Isaiah Thomas watches his TD Garden tribute video on Monday night. Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

That being said, even in the NBA, where the sporting epochs change every three to five years – and come and go ever faster than everyone expects – the reign of the "king of the fourth" remains singularly surprising in its short duration. it was really.

For two seasons, Thomas has shone as one of the brightest stars in the NBA for one of his most prestigious franchises. It was the perfect marriage between person and opportunity on both sides. The Celtics had a team of tough players and needed a marker to serve as an anchor for the offense, a role that Thomas played superbly. Along the way, it has become the latest in a long list of oppressed stories to fascinate customers of this city's sports teams.

This is true for his way of defying odds by drawing ridiculous stats while being almost always the smallest player on the field. It was also true for the way he stood tall in the face of the most overwhelming adversity: the two the tragic death of her sister, Chyna, in a car accident in the 2017 playoffs, and her hip injury – and possibly her marginalization -.

"I experienced a real situation here, when I lost my sister, that this city and this organization lived with me," Thomas said. "And I think that's why, apart … the love is still there, but that's what brought it to another level.

"I have experienced the worst situation you can live in the lives of these people, and they were with me.All the city's inhabitants, the organization, were with me, they have it lived with me, which is why Boston means so much to me. "

Then, as soon as he arrived as a star and he was adopted as one of the favorite sons of this city, he left. Thomas was sent to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a package intended for Kyrie Irving who – despite the protests of Anthony Davis's father several weeks ago – has always been and will remain the only move that the Celtics could have made.

The version of Thomas who took the court with a time of 2:42 in the first quarter Monday night was very different from the one that had so often captivated this crowd during his brief stint in Boston. The hip problems that led him to miss the final three games of the final phase of the East Conference 2017 have, at least for the moment, transformed Thomas, who was an effective scorer, into a passive at both ends.

This was illustrated by his passing of 6 minutes and 50 seconds in the first half of Monday. When he entered the game, the Nuggets led by four. By the time he went out with 7:52 remaining in the second, the Nuggets trailed by four. Thomas missed his two shots – a runner runs down the lane and a 3-pointer open on the right wing – and made a turnaround, to go with two assists.

With Thomas on the bench in the same minutes of the second half, Denver put the game aside to finally win the 114-105 win and, at the same time, win the first playoff franchise in six. seasons.

2015-17 2017-19
Games 158 42
PPG 25.5 13.4
FG Pct 44.6 37.1
3-Pt FG Pct 37.7 28.8
APG 6.1 4.0

The numbers of Thomas in limited action this season are not more beautiful. He scores on average 7.7 points per game on 36.4% of the throws on the ground, including 26.5% to 3 points. Denver, meanwhile, was 27 points behind in 147 minutes that Thomas played this season. He is 12.3 points for 100 possessions worse when Thomas is on the field (minus 7.6) than when he is on the bench (plus-5.3). .

All of these reasons explain why, earlier this month, Nuggets coach Mike Malone went to see Thomas and told him that after playing nine games since returning from an operation at the hip last month he would no longer be part of the Denver rotation.

"The reason I took it out of the rotation, and our team [struggling] … our team did not fight Isaiah Thomas, "said Malone before Monday's game. It was an unfair evaluation. "We are fighting because of Isaiah."

"No, we were struggling because" we "were debating." It's never an individual. "

Sometimes, though. Professional sport is a big deal. Very rarely, if ever, a well-being story ends well. Thomas's stay in Boston is proof of that. How to send someone a suitcase so universally loved here?

Because it was the right business decision. Irving is simply a better player, especially compared to this version. And it does not seem like the old version comes back so soon – if ever.

"I'm not sure," said Malone, when this question was asked. "What I am going to say is this: if anyone can do it, it is him – his heart, his determination, his self-confidence.

"[But] will he be the player from there two years ago, who led the league in the fourth quarter, with an average of 29 per game and who was a star player? I do not know."

Nobody can either. The evidence, however, suggests that he will not do it.

All this is unfortunate for Thomas, who had signed a contract well below the market while he was playing with the Celtics – only for his hip to give in before he could be compensated to the extent of his performance at Boston.

Sports are not fair. Injuries arrive. Opportunities come and go. Thomas, who was the 60th and final choice in the 2011 Washington draft, made the experience at every stage. He managed to overcome it through a combination of supreme trust and unique skills.

Confidence remains.

"I just want a legitimate opportunity," said Thomas. "Whatever the role, it's going to be, but I know that I can still play at a high level, and if the opportunity allows me, I can be an All Star, I can be All -NBA, all that, because I feel physically good.

"But everything is a matter of opportunity, if I have the opportunity, I'll be ready to do it, I'll take full advantage of it, and when this summer comes, I'll just know what's going to happen. the best opportunity, what is the best situation for me and my family, and then go from there. "

Thomas obviously wore green and gold Nikes during Monday night's game. He was then questioned about them.

"You know what's crazy?" These green and gold sneakers were destined for the final last year, "said Thomas. "So, I've always kept these in. I've had two other pairs too, but these have been made for the finals of the NBA.

"And then we lost to the Cavs, and things like that."

These other "things" included Thomas's exchange and sending his career in a very different direction than he had imagined. It was an event that night left him in an atmosphere of reflection, because he had to struggle how his star fell from its climax here.

"It was special here, but I did not understand that before I was gone," Thomas said. "I was so locked up in those times that I did not really know what was going on.

"So, after being traded, I sometimes thought about what I had done as an individual, what we had done as a team, and at those incredible times that I would cherish any my life. .

"Like, those moments were everything, and we made legendary ones —."

Then Thomas stopped.

"I've also made some legendary ones."

For a moment, Boston gave Thomas everything he had always wanted. On Monday night, everyone was reminded, including Thomas.

It also reminded everyone that these days are over.

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