You won’t find many players in the NBA better than Isaiah Thomas at using the slightest slight or snub as added motivation to perform at a high level.
Back in Phoenix, the team that traded him to Boston minutes before the 2015 trade deadline had elapsed, you would think that he would want to scorch the Suns every chance he gets.
“It’s like they gave me a Christmas gift sending me away,” Thomas told reporters on Saturday morning. “So I thank them.”
These days, Thomas’ greatest motivation is to continue finding ways to keep the Boston Celtics (40-22) on a winning track.
They come into tonight’s game against the Suns having won two straight, three of their last four and seven of their last 10 games.
The Suns (20-42) have had their struggles most of this season, but lately have played better basketball with wins in their last two games. And if they can upset the Celtics tonight, it would give them their first three-game winning streak this season.
“We gotta play well,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters on Saturday. “This is about us. If we don’t play well, we’ll get beat. That’s for sure. So that’s the way we are every game. We’re not just going to show up and beat people. That’s not who we are. To be candid, this Phoenix team plays with so much passion and competitiveness and toughness and the right way, we’re going to have to play really well (to win).”
Part of Boston’s path to success will be getting a handle on Phoenix’s explosive backcourt tandem of Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker.
“That’s a tough group to match up with,” said Stevens who added that he would also include T.J. Warren to that group. “They’re great in transition. Bledsoe’s ability to get to the rim is well documented. He’s hit big shots in all the games I’ve watched and Booker is a handful. He can post, and score from behind the arc and score in a variety of ways.”
While those aren’t necessarily the ways in which Isaiah Thomas gets his points, he does impact the game scoring the ball lots of different ways which keeps defenses guessing what the two-time all-star will come up with next. Thomas comes into tonight’s game ranked second in the league in scoring (29.4) behind Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (31.7).
And when you think about the role he had in Phoenix – he was playing behind Bledsoe and Goran Dragic – without question the best thing for Thomas’ basketball career was to be traded to Boston. Suns GM Ryan McDonough acknowledged in a radio interview last year that it was a mistake for the Suns should not have traded Thomas away.
“I think in retrospect trading Isaiah Thomas when we did was a mistake,” McDonough, a former Celtics assistant GM, said of the Thomas trade. “I think sometimes in the recruitment process things sound better in July (luring Thomas in free agency) than they do in November."
McDonough added, “He wanted more, he wanted a bigger role and I understand why: He's a talented player. In retrospect, we should have carried him into the summer. If there's one (decision) that stands out, if I could get a mulligan, that'd be it.”
Thomas has emerged as a two-time all-star since the trade, and is now on the short list of potential league MVP candidates. Meanwhile, the Suns have been a team caught between being good enough to not be the worst team in the league but bad enough to not make the playoffs.
Those aren’t the only changes, either.
Thomas was told that there was a billboard with his face on it in the Phoenix area.
“They didn’t put me on a billboard when I was playing for the Suns,” said Thomas who added with a grin, “I guess that’s cool.
He added, “I definitely wanted to be on a billboard when I was here. But it worked out for the best.”