By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) –The Boston Celtics honored Isaiah Thomas on Monday night, a moment the former C’s star won’t soon forget.
The Celtics played the much ballyhooed tribute video for the 5-foot-9 guard during a first quarter timeout in their loss to the Denver Nuggets, a moment that led to a few damp eyes inside the TD Garden.
That included IT himself.
“That was special,” Thomas said of his tribute. “I wish my family was here to see that but they watched. I was emotional; I almost cried. That was everything. I appreciate them for doing that, it meant a lot.”
Thomas received a standing ovation when he entered the game in the first quarter, sporting special sneakers he had made up in 2017 in case the Celtics made it to the NBA Finals. Boston fans oohed and aahed every time he touched the ball, eager to see IT score inside the Garden again. He went 0-for-2 from the floor in his seven minutes, and did not play in the second half of the 114-105 Denver victory.
But he still had a great sense of humor about his goose egg after the game.
“I didn’t think I missed in this building, but I haven’t been here in a while,” Thomas joked. “I was just glad I was able to get out there and play. It was fun to be able to do that in front of the best fans in the world.”
Thomas only spent two-and-a-half seasons in Celtics green, but was beloved by fans and the organization alike for giving it his all whenever he stepped on the court. He played with zero regard for his body, determined to put points on the board no matter what it meant for his tiny frame. His MVP-like season in 2017 was one of the best in Celtics history, with IT averaging 28.9 points per game and putting on nightly clinics in fourth-quarter scoring. But what resonates with fans even more than the scoring outbursts was how Thomas played through physical and emotional pain for the team. He forever etched himself in Celtics lore when he suited up for the playoffs one day after his younger sister was killed in a car crash. Two weeks later, he scored 53 points in a Game 2 overtime win against the Washington Wizards in the East semis, the day of his late sister’s birthday.
The tribute video, which went un-played last season due to a whole lot of drama, was a nice way for Celtics fans to say one last thank you to a player that embraced everything about being a Celtic.
“Well-deserved, ten times over,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. “I can’t say enough great things for Isaiah. I could sit up here all night and certainly that video tribute was great. Our people did a great job on it, it was emotional and it was — it could’ve lasted a lot longer. I greatly appreciate of our time together and I was glad that he got that moment.”
Thomas said the tribute is one of the best moments of his career.
“It’s up there. I got my college jersey retired and that was big, but this was, I can’t even describe that feeling. My teammates felt that and they weren’t even a part of that. It was big-time and I appreciate them doing that,” he said. “That meant a lot, especially not being able to be in the situation where I’m playing, this type of love is what I wanted and I needed. I’m glad I was able to come back and the love was amazing.”
Thomas hurt his hip during Boston’s 2017 postseason run and has never been the same. He was traded that offseason in the blockbuster swap that landed Kyrie Irving in Boston, a move that any NBA GM would make, but one that didn’t feel great because of what it did to Isaiah. After a lost season with the Cavaliers and Lakers last year, Thomas ending up taking the veteran minimum from the Nuggets over the summer — a far cry from the Brinks truck he was expecting when he was dominating the floor for the Celtics. He recently fell out of the Denver rotation, with his seven minutes on Monday his first action in 10 days.
He has made it pretty clear that he would return to Boston in a heartbeat, almost begging the Celtics to sign him this summer. The always-confident guard believes the Celtics would have won a title had they kept the band together, and wants another shot in a place that he still considers home.
“I mean, why not?” Thomas said of a return. “If the opportunity presents itself, that would be everything. I’m a Nugget right now and I’m happy to be here. The Nuggets organization took me with open arms, given me an opportunity, given me a chance to work my way back on my time, I can’t thank them enough. But if that opportunity is there I’m open to anything.”
Chances are Isaiah Thomas won’t be wearing Celtics green again, but for one night, he got to re-live and experience that loving feeling from Boston.