BOSTON – Last week, I named Patrice Bergeron the sixth best Boston athlete of the decade, which also meant that I was proclaiming him to be the best Boston Bruin of the decade. This week, Isaiah Thomas is entering the list and, at number five, he is also the highest-ranking member of the Boston Celtics in the past decade. For good reason, too.
In a decade that began with the end of the Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo era and ended with the departure of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford and the arrival of Kemba Walker, one player carried the Celtics franchise out of their rebuilding mode in the middle of the decade and into immediate prominence. That, of course, was Thomas.
In February 2015, Thomas, the undersized point guard with a prolific scoring ability, was traded to Boston from the Phoenix Suns and his impact was immediately felt. By the end of the season, he had been named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week twice and finished second in the voting for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Boston was rebuilding a basketball contender, but they had seemingly ended that process with just one trade.
From there, Thomas began to dominate. Named an All-Star during the 2015-16 season, Thomas led the Celtics to the playoffs where he dropped forty-two points on the Atlanta Hawks in a game three victory. The Celtics would go on to lose the series, but thanks to Thomas, they always contended for it.
In the 2016-17 season, Thomas was one of the best players in the entire league. Again named an All-Star, he set a number of Celtics records, including the mark for points scored in a quarter. He posted 29 of those in a December 30 victory over the Miami Heat. In total during the game, Thomas racked up an astonishing 52 points, which was good for fourth all-time in franchise history.
Averaging 32.9 points per game in January, Thomas was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month and he led a Celtics team that steamrolled their way to the post-season. But then, tragedy struck. Before the Celtics' series against the Chicago Bulls, Thomas learned that his younger sister, Chyna, had died in a car accident.
It was devastating news and, after the Bulls series, Thomas left the team to attend her funeral. When he returned for the second round series against the Washington Wizards, he dropped 33 points in the first game, which was played in honor of Chyna. Few Celtics in history have ever gutted out games like he did.
Finally reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, the season ended for Thomas with more heartbreak as a hip injury sidelined him for the remainder of the playoffs.
Thomas was traded in the off-season to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Irving and it remains a point of contention among Celtics fans. Obviously, with Thomas' diminishing returns and nagging injury, Irving was a definite upgrade. But Thomas was a true Celtic, way more than Kyrie ever was. And it was upsetting for many to see general manager Danny Ainge exercise absolutely no loyalty.
But the fans will never forget the Isaiah Thomas era in Boston. He was a truly special player and the best Celtic of the decade.
Image via Wikimedia Commons / Keith Allison