BOSTON (CBS) — Isaiah Thomas had himself a career season, leading the Celtics to 53 regular season wins and a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“The Little Guy” averaged 28.9 points per game during the regular season and often put the team on his back with dominating fourth quarter performances. He played through physical and emotional pain during the playoffs, and though he struggled at times, he still averaged 23.3 points in Boston’s 18 contests before a torn labrum in his hip caused too much pain for him to play after Game 2 of the Conference Finals.
Despite all of what Thomas brings on the offensive end of the floor, some still wonder if the Celtics are a better team without him. He certainly has deficiencies on the defensive end, generously listed at 5-foot-9, and some of his splits do lend credence to that theory. It also doesn’t help that Boston won their only game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East Finals after Thomas went down.
But as easy as it is to say the Celtics would be a better defensive team with Thomas off the floor, you can quickly counter that there’s no way they would have won 53 games and made it to the NBA’s final four without him pouring in the buckets. And if you are part of the movement shouting that the Celtics would be better off without Thomas, Danny Ainge says you’re just being silly.
“Anybody who watched that team play all year long knows how many games that little sucker won for us in the last six minutes of the game,” the Celtics’ president of basketball ops told The Boston Globe. “And when he doesn’t play — yeah, we have good players, no doubt about it. But we also have stretches where we can’t score, and he’s our best scorer. So that’s just silly.”
Ainge said he was continually in awe over what Thomas was able to do during the playoffs despite all that he was dealing with off of the floor. Thomas’ younger sister, Chyna, was killed in a car accident before the first game of the postseason. He had his best game on the night that would have been her 23rd birthday, scoring 53 points in an overtime victory over the Washington Wizards in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semis.
Ahead of that game, Thomas underwent hours of dental surgery to fix a tooth that had been knocked out during Game 1.
“To go through what happened with his sister and then to get three of his teeth knocked out and fractures up in his gums and then to have this oral surgery, and then the very first game back, to land on his face, which he’d never done in his entire career. … I mean, stuff like that, it’s just like, man, what more can happen to him?,” commented Ainge.
With the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, there’s a strong chance Ainge adds potential star-of-the-future Markelle Fultz to a Celtics roster chock-full of point guards. Thomas will be a free agent after next season and had made it clear he’ll be seeking a max deal, which only helps fuel more questions about his future in Boston.
But it sounds pretty clear based on Ainge’s comments that he would like Thomas to be a big part of the Celtics’ plans going forward.