Tomase: Isaiah Thomas always wanted to take Celtics to Finals, and maybe this year he has

John Tomase
May 19, 2018 - 1:21 am
Isaiah Thomas Marcus Smart

David Butler II/USA Today Sports

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The Celtics owe Isaiah Thomas one last debt of thanks.

If the former TD Garden favorite hadn't played out of his mind in 2017, the Cavaliers never would've considered him a viable piece for All-Star guard Kyrie Irving.

And if Thomas doesn't go to Cleveland, then he doesn't alienate his new teammates until management has no choice but to depress the plunger to build the team currently getting its doors blown off by the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

As Garden PA announcer Eddie Palladino might intone: "I.T. … FOR THREE!!!!"

Imagine how different this series looks with a healthy Thomas. While the Brooklyn pick (No. 8 overall -- Danny wins again!) provided Cleveland with its primary motivation to deal the disgruntled Irving, Thomas seemingly made the return a win in the here and now, too.

After all, he averaged nearly 29 points a game last year and then carried the Celtics to the conference finals with one of the most inspirational performances in team history. Following the death of his sister on the eve of the playoffs, he gritted what remained of his teeth to drop more than 50 on the Wizards and fill the Garden with life.

His reward? A shocking ticket out of town from Danny Ainge, who has yet to meet a fan favorite he wouldn't upgrade like a Trump wife.

At this point, it's probably worth reminding anyone with a short memory how much Thomas meant to the Celtics. His arrival turned the C's into a playoff team, albeit one that was stomped by the Cavs. His magnetism helped attract marquee free agents Al Horford and Gordon Hayward. His presence at the lottery delivered the No. 1 pick, which became Jayson Tatum. His departure brought Irving. The Celtics and their fans should be eternally grateful. The delight at his downfall feels misplaced.

Anyway . . .

Thomas never fit in Cleveland, probably because he never accepted being jilted like Marla Maples. He referenced Boston constantly during his brief Cavaliers tenure, earning the ire of teammates. He wanted the Cavs to practice more on off days, play better defense, and show more cohesion late in games. Critiques that reflected poorly on coach Tyronn Lue made him sound wistful for Brad Stevens. He also reportedly trashed Kevin Love in the midst of what turned out to be a mini nervous breakdown. Just bad looks all around.

Making matters worse, the King in the Fourth no longer resembled the offensive assassin who had ruled Boston. After returning from the mangled hip that nearly scuttled the deal, he shot barely 35 percent but demanded the ball like an All-Star. The explosiveness that once marked his bombing runs down the lane disappeared. And his defense? Not even 57 points a night would've compensated for a distinct lack of it.

The Cavaliers went 7-8 in Thomas's 15 games before punting him to the Lakers for Larry Nance and Jordan Clarkson as part of a trade deadline overhaul that also included George Hill and Rodney Hood.

The Cavs briefly looked like conference favorites again after the flurry, banging 3's and playing with a reignited passion that made Thomas a bad memory.

We all know how that turned out. Hood petulantly refused to enter a playoff blowout and then faced zero consequences. Hill is a defensive liability whom the Celtics gleefully exploit. Clarkson and Nance are more invisible than Barron's sister Tiffany. Maybe the Cavs will hit it big at No. 8, but for now the return for Irving is best visualized as a turned-out pocket. Is this lint worth anything?

Isaiah was supposed to ride sidekick as LeBron delivered Cleveland one final title before bidding his hometown a second adieu. Instead, he played the role of Celtics sleeper agent to perfection, and now his former team is halfway home to the Finals.

So one last time, say it with me: "IIIIIIIIII-TTTTTTTT!!!!!!!"

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