Celtics-Suns preview: Thomas calls trade to Boston 'a Christmas gift'

Celtics-Suns preview: Thomas calls trade to Boston 'a Christmas gift'

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.”

WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

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WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pelicans in New Orleans. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 5:30  p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

As the NBA trade deadline drew near, Celtics Nation was hoping tonight’s matchup between Boston and New Orleans would be Anthony Davis returning to where his pro career began.

He’s still with the Pelicans, doing what Davis has done for most of his career – dominate play.

But there’s a new twist now … he’s also winning. 

That’s why the 6-foot-10 Davis is no longer seen as a player that might be on the move anytime soon. 

He’s not just one of the league’s best players, but a bonafide MVP candidate whose stock as an elite player is even greater since New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins (ruptured Achilles tendon) for the season on Jan. 26. 

Since Cousins’ season-ending injury, New Orleans (39-30) has a 12-9 record with Davis averaging 31.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.3 steals per game in that span. 

Davis is also averaging 7.8 free throws per game which ranks fourth in the NBA, although you wouldn’t know he was among the league leaders in that category based on the postgame rant by his coach Alvin Gentry following New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday night. 

“A.D. (Anthony Davis) never gets a call,” a visibly angry Gentry told reporters following the loss. “He never gets a call. We talk about them holding him. We talk about them grabbing him on rolls. We talk about them coming under him on post-ups. He never gets a call; not one. And you know why? Because he doesn’t (bleep) complain about it. He just keeps playing the game.”

Regardless of how often he gets to the line, Davis is still putting up MVP-caliber numbers this season in Cousins’ absence. 

But it’s not like Davis’ stat line this season overall – 28.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals – didn’t stand out for all the right reasons, either.

However, Davis’ shine isn’t quite as bright now with the Pelicans losing four of their last five games which has dropped New Orleans (39-30) down to the eighth and final playoff spot and just 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (37-31).

So, the Celtics come into town facing not only one of the better teams in the West, but a club that is absolutely starving for a win.

While Boston (47-22) certainly wants to come into the Big Easy and get a victory, its impact on the Celtics’ playoff hopes is non-existent. 

Boston has the second-best record in the East and trail Toronto (52-17) by five games with 13 remaining. They face the Raptors two more times this season, but even if they win both of those games and thus the head-to-head series, it likely won’t come into play because of Toronto likely finishing with the best record in the East. 

And behind Boston in the standings is Cleveland (40-29), another injury-riddled team that’s seven games behind the Celtics in the standing and has shown no signs of threatening to gain ground on Boston. 

So regardless of how the Celtics fare, it’s likely they will remain sandwiched between Toronto and Cleveland in terms of playoff seedings are concerned. 

And that might factor into who plays – and who doesn’t – for Boston in these final few games of the regular season. 

Boston’s Daniel Theis suffered a season-ending torn meniscus injury in his left knee, and Marcus Smart’s right thumb injury will keep him out for the rest of the regular season with the earliest he might be back being the latter stages of the first round of the playoffs, or sometime during the second round if the Celtics advance that far. 

Boston must also make sure Kyrie Irving and his sore left knee, are good to go for the playoffs. In addition, the Celtics must work Jaylen Brown back into the fold after he suffered a concussion that has kept him out of Boston’s last three games. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has made a point of not allowing himself or his players to use their injury situation as an excuse for not playing good basketball. 

But he knows good basketball for his injury-riddled roster, involves players elevating their play.

“We’re going to be in the process of really looking at ourselves and redistributing responsibility on our team without guys going outside of what they do best,” Stevens said, adding, “We’re going to have to figure out how to play our best basketball.”