For starters, if you thought last night was a dream then just watch this clip a few more times:
That’s right. The Boston Celtics, against all odds, defeated the Cavaliers in the King’s House to narrow the series to 2-1. Boston had just been crushed at home by 44 points two days prior and had lost their star player in Isaiah Thomas the day after that. It’s also important to note that the Celtics were down by 21 points midway through the third quarter against the defending champs.
While the win was exhilarating, there is now a looming question over the Celtics franchise: are they better without Isaiah Thomas?
Whichever way this question is taken, it is obvious that Thomas was the best player/shooter for the Celtics this season. IT was third in the league in PPG averaging 29.1 over the course of the regular season. Thomas was also one of only three players this season to score 2,000 points and record 400 assists (Westbrook, Harden). Nobody can dispute that Thomas had a breakout season and carried the Celtics to the best record in the Eastern Conference. The only problem that comes to mind is what happened to his game heading into the Conference Finals?
During Game 1, Thomas scored a measly 17 points and recorded a -20 rating in the loss. Things only got worse in Game 2 where he scored just 2 points (FT) while shooting 0-6 from the field. Thomas only played the first half of the game and still ended up with a -32 rating, his worst of the season. Thomas left Game 2 after having a noticeable limp late in the second quarter. After the game it was reported that Thomas was suffering from pain in his hip that he had originally injured back in March. During Game 6 of the Conference Semi-Finals against Washington, Thomas re-aggravated the same area but was still cleared to play.
Could the injury have been responsible for Thomas’ poor play? Entirely possible, but still doesn’t explain the lack of awareness Thomas had during the first two games. Intentionally trying to draw fouls, throwing up unbalanced shots, forcing difficult passes, etc., Thomas quite simply looked lost. Without him on the court for Game 3, the Celtics were able to rely on each member of the team instead of focusing on one man.
Long story short, the Celtics were able to move the ball around and have more freedom in taking shots. This became evident when looking at who came out big for Boston. Jonas Jerebko, who hadn’t played the previous two games, scored 10 points off the bench. Olynyk added another 15, and Marcus Smart led the charge with 27 points, 7 assists and 5 total rebounds. Boston had six different players score 10+ points and that correlates directly with Thomas not playing.
This was just one game though, and it would be wrong to not mention that Thomas is beloved in the city of Boston. The narrative after Game 3 immediately became one of whether or not Danny Ainge should move on from the 5’9 point guard. The Celtics are looking ahead to a busy free agency as well as hold the coveted #1 pick in the draft. Thomas was also named to the All-NBA Second Team which entitles him to a max-deal extension. With all of the offseason options, Danny will have to decide if it makes sense to pay that much money to the smallest player in the league, regardless of how good he is. 29.9 PPG should not be overlooked, but no one player is bigger than the future of the franchise.
Thomas has the vision and determination to add another banner to the rafters at TD Garden that the fans in Boston are hungry for. In a few years that could be a real possibility. Whether or not Thomas will be a part of it is all up in the air.