BOSTON – Isaiah Thomas has had an incredible season, putting up the kind of numbers that have led to his name being tossed around in conversation with the likes of Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Paul Pierce, among others.
But they all have won NBA titles, something that separates them from Thomas and to large extent, helped cement their legacies as being among the greatest to play for this organization.
Thomas has made no secret about one day when his career ends, being talked about and revered as one of the greats.
And he’ll be the first to tell you that he’s not in their class yet, because they won at the highest level while he’s done nothing more than get the Celtics out of the first round of playoffs earlier this month.
Which brings us to tonight’s Game 7 matchup with the Washington Wizards with the winner advancing to the Eastern Conference finals where a well-rested Cleveland Cavaliers team will be waiting.
There’s more on the line than just a trip to the conference finals.
And Thomas isn’t just fighting to get his team to the next round; he’s fighting to keep building upon his steadily improving position among the greats to wear the Green and White.
That’s some serious pressure, right?
Not according to Thomas.
“I don’t believe in pressure,” Thomas said. “I worked too hard to be scared of any type of pressure. I’m treating it (Game 7) just like it was Game 1. You have to treat every game the same. It is the last game of the series and it’s very important. We have to protect home court and just do our job.”
Home court has been the narrative of this series, one in which the home team has won each of the first six games.
It's a trend the Celtics are hoping to keep alive tonight as they try close out what has been a tough, rugged series filled with hard fouls and hard feelings from both teams.
“Both teams are playing well at home,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “Hope to keep it going. I know they’re going to come ready to play, so we need to come ready to play as well. It’s going to be a tough game.”
So often we have seen this team follow the path Thomas has blazed for them.
That’s why his talk of feeling no pressure, not surprisingly, is very much the narrative that most of the Celtics are talking about leading up to tonight’s winner-moves-on battle.
While there’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with any game of this significance, Crowder doesn’t believe that will determine Monday night’s winner.
“Don’t get it confused,” Crowder said. “The hardest-playing team is going to win this game.”
And while the Celtics aren’t overflowing with players with Game 7 experience, most have been in similar situations.
“All these guys played Game 7’s when they took to the court in March,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, referring to the NCAA Tournament. “That’s what they’ve done their whole lives. There are moments in the season that are really pivotal. There are moments in a series that can go one way or another. But when it is how you play tomorrow determines if you play (Wednesday), I can’t think of anything more fun, to be honest. If you love the game, this is what it’s all about.”
While there’s certainly a lot of fun involved, it can’t completely replace the pressure, right?
“Everybody is going to look at it their own way,” Stevens said. “Again, the game of basketball is something we all share, we all love basketball. These are the moments you live for. This is where guys have always dreamed about and enjoy. It should be a lot of fun.”
It will be for Thomas who will approach Game 7 with a worry-free mindset, well aware of its implications for the Celtics season and his steadily-improving status in what has been one of the best individual seasons ever by a Celtic.
It’s Game 7, folks.
Winners move on to the next round, losers move on to the summer.
Thomas can’t help but grin when he talks about tonight’s game and all that’s at stake.
“That’s where legends are born,” Thomas said.