Tyrone Wallace. Christian Wood. Cory Jefferson. Janis Timma. Even the most devout NBA fans would have trouble recalling these names. These players were the last to be selected in the previous four NBA drafts. For that reason alone, Isaiah Thomas, the 60th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, must be commended for the career that he has carved out so far. However, after everything that Thomas went through this postseason, his efforts should be appreciated even more.
Standing at 5-feet-9, Isaiah Thomas bounced around in stints with the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns before landing with the Boston Celtics via trade in 2015. The regular season was a breakout season for Thomas, as he established himself as a legitimate star in the league and placed himself in the MVP race. He averaged 28.9 points per game and broke the Celtics franchise record for most consecutive 20-point games. Doing it all for the Celtics, he led them to a surprise 1-seed in the Eastern Conference and looked poised to make a deep run in the playoffs. But on April 16, Thomas received the devastating news that his little sister had died in a one-car crash.
Despite the heartbreaking news, Thomas stepped on the court later that day for Game 1 of his team’s first-round series against the Chicago Bulls. Visibly emotional and distraught, he was able to corral his emotions and channel it to the basketball court, scoring 33 points in a 106-102 loss. The Celtics would go on to win the series 4-2 and Thomas frequently mentioned how playing on helped him somewhat cope with the loss.
In the second round matchup against the Washington Wizards, Thomas now had to deal with physical pain on top of his emotional struggles. In Game 1 of the series, Thomas’ tooth was knocked out after being accidentally elbowed by Wizards small forward Otto Porter. While many would allow this to hamper them, Thomas continued his strong play, dropping 33 points in a 123-111 win. The highlight of that series was arguably May 2, the day of Game 2, and what would have been his sister’s birthday. With a heavy heart that night, Thomas willed his team to a 129-119 overtime victory in which he scored 53 points, becoming just the fourth Celtics player to record at least 50 points in a playoff game. While the Celtics received great production from everyone, it was Thomas’ will to win and emotional fortitude that led the Celtics to a 4-3 series win over the Wizards.
Thomas’ season came to a sudden end in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, when he exited the game and was later ruled out for the rest of the postseason with a hip injury. Even though the Celtics season will most likely end on Thursday night or this weekend, Thomas must be recognized for the unforgettable season that he had. Overcoming his short stature, being the last pick in the NBA Draft and now facing the death of a loved one, Thomas has always been resilient and showed the biggest heart, even as the smallest player on the court.