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Isaiah Thomas Made a Big Impact in a Short Time in Boston

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So, Isaiah Thomas is officially headed to Cleveland, along with Jae Crowder and Brooklyn’s first round pick in next year’s NBA draft. The Celtics will get a bona fide NBA superstar in return. Kyrie Irving will probably be a great player here.

He’s a better defender than IT, and getting out of the shadow of LeBron James will probably bump up his scoring average to somewhere at or above that of Thomas. There will be plenty of time over the coming weeks and months for us to analyze the game of Kyrie Irving. But on his way out of town, we should take the time to appreciate the excellent character and play of one Isaiah Thomas.

What We’ve Lost

When people are coming up with comparisons for the breakout of Isaiah Thomas, the first natural comparison is Allen Iverson. Thomas’s 2016-17 campaign compares favorably with Iverson at the same age.

You can see that while Iverson averaged 2.5 points more per game than Thomas did, he needed eight more shots a game to get that done. So rather than driving to the hoop wildly, as Iverson did, Thomas played much more in control. He drove to pass. His shooting percentage was 65 points higher, despite taking four more threes a game than did AI. From the free throw line too, Thomas was absolutely automatic.

What we just witnessed from Isaiah Thomas was a remarkable season. Anytime you can compare a player’s last season favorably to the best season of an NBA Hall of Famer, you know you’ve got something special. And we saw him lead one of the more fun Celtics teams to watch in recent memory.

Isaiah Thomas The Man

Of course, last season we learned there’s much more to Isaiah Thomas than scoring the basketball. We saw him go through one of the toughest things a human being could possibly go through, the tragic death of his sister Chyna. And we watched him go through it with remarkable poise. Game one of the first round against the Bulls last spring at the TD Garden was the equivalent of a wake – of 17,565 mourners in a line paying their respects and trying to heap upon Thomas all the love they possibly could.

That he managed to score 33 points and nearly lead the Celtics to a victory will probably go down as one of the more memorable losses in the history of the franchise. After flying back to Washington for the funeral, then come back to score another 33 points to lead the Celtics to a game one victory over the Washington Wizards the next day.

Of course, because life will tend to throw at you all that you can possibly take, Thomas had a tooth knocked out during the game.

His mouth injuries during the playoffs required multiple oral surgeries. And this is to say nothing of the hip injury that he played through for as long as he could during the series against the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are getting one heck of a basketball player, but they’re getting an even better man. They’re getting a high-character leader.

The Celtics Legacy of Isaiah Thomas

We just saw Thomas put up the second highest scoring average in team history, 28.9, trailing only Larry Bird’s 29.9 in 1987-88. In terms of Player Efficiency Rating, he again comes second only to Larry Bird’s ’87-88 campaign. For a player who was only here a few years, he certainly left his mark.

His 53 points against the Wizards in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals is second most in franchise playoff history only to John Havlicek’s 54 against the Hawks in 1973.

His 29 point quarter against the Heat on December 30, 2016, is another franchise record, as are his nine three-pointers made in that same game.

We’re going to miss you, Isaiah Thomas. Sure, we’ll miss your scoring. We’ll miss the game-winning shots, three-pointers, and drives to the basket.

But more than that we’ll miss the joy in which he plays the game. The fire. We’ll miss the courage to drive against larger men. We’ll miss the Herculean effort. And most of all, we’ll miss the character we got to see from you on a nightly basis. We’ll miss your work off the court, too.

So mark your calendars for January 3rd. That’s when Thomas and the Cavaliers come to Boston for the first time this season. This young man should get an ovation similar to those Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce got. He didn’t play in green for as long as they did, but in the time he did, he wore the green as well as anyone.

Good luck in Cleveland IT. (Except when you’re playing the Celtics when I’d love to see you score 70 in a close loss.)

You deserve it.



Photo by Keith Allison


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Mike Cooney
Mike is a lifelong Boston sports fan. He's got a degree in journalism from Northeastern University, and has been writing about sports in various methods since the mid-1990's. He's gotten to meet Bobby Orr, Luis Tiant, Rich Gedman, Nomar Garciaparra, and once shut out Carlos Pena's two twin brothers in a game of foosball at McCoy Stadium.