Celtics

Bittersweet return for Isaiah Thomas against his former Celtics team

Bittersweet return for Isaiah Thomas against his former Celtics team

BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas has proclaimed his love for the city of Boston time and time again. 

But when it comes to facing his former Celtics teammates, who have shown tremendous growth since he was traded, well, that’s another story. 

“As a competitor, I hate it,” Thomas said. “But to see them jelling how they are and playing the best basketball of any team in the NBA right now, you have to take your hats off to them. They have great players, a great coaching staff that’s putting them in position to be successful.”

The Wizards became the latest to find this out the hard way as the Celtics extended their winning streak to nine following a 140-133 victory over Washington. 

Boston (9-1) will begin a five-game Western trip on Friday night against the Golden State Warriors as they hit the road with the best record in the NBA. 

Having that kind of status was something Thomas felt could happen during his time in Boston which included him being named an All-Star in back-to-back seasons. 

But a significant hip injury and a slow recovery time derailed what was shaping up to be a promising future for the last player selected in the 2011 NBA draft. 

Now Thomas finds himself back on the grind trying to prove that the player he was in Boston, can be resurrected in Washington. 

Wednesday’s game, while not ending the way Thomas wanted, was indeed a step in the right direction. 

Thomas finished with 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting along with seven assists.

But considering how dominant a scorer he was while in Boston, Thomas knows he’ll have to string together many more games like that before he will truly be back to the player he once was. 

“It’s tough because I want it all back right now,” Thomas said. “But I can’t skip any steps. I have to take it one day at a time. I’ve been doing that. This opportunity has been good for me; coach [Scott Brooks] believes in me, my teammates believe in me and that’s all that matters.”

Thomas has been a favorite of head coach Brad Stevens since he left, and has remained close to a number of his teammates including Marcus Smart. 

“I.T. was a great teammate,” Smart recently told NBC Sports Boston. “Going through all that he has gone through, not just playing but with life, you want to see him do well, you want to see him succeed.

Smart added with a grin, “but you want to beat him, too.”

And that is what made Wednesday’s game a bittersweet one for Thomas. 

Even though Washington (2-7) has one of the worst records in the NBA, Thomas came into Wednesday’s game confident that he could play well and that Washington would find a way to get the victory. 

For most of the game, the Wizards stayed within striking distance and even played with a lead from time to time. 

In addition to Thomas, Washington also got a big game from All-Star guard Bradley Beal, who led all scorers with 44 points.  

“It felt good to be out there,” Thomas, visibly disappointed, said shortly after the loss. “But I just want to win. We didn’t get the job and that was the most important thing. But overall it felt good to be back and play some meaningful minutes.”

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Warriors, which tips off Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

NBA Rumors: 'No traction' on Andre Drummond trade as deadline nears

NBA Rumors: 'No traction' on Andre Drummond trade as deadline nears

If the Detroit Pistons really want to trade Andre Drummond, they'll need to step on the gas pedal.

Teams have "kicked the tires" on a potential Drummond trade but there has been "no traction" on any deal ahead of Feb. 6 NBA trade deadline, Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix reported Friday.

The Boston Celtics reportedly are among the teams interested in the 26-year-old big man, who leads the NBA in rebounds per game (15.7) and ranks eighth in blocks (1.8).

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Drummond would give Boston an answer to Eastern Conference giants like Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Milwaukee's Brook and Robin Lopez while bolstering a thin frontcourt currently holding its own with Enes Kanter and an overachieving Daniel Theis.

As Mannix points out, though, Drummond's $27 million cap hit could be a deal-breaker for many teams, including the Celtics. The C's would have to move Gordon Hayward or Marcus Smart and at least one other player to make salaries match, but the team seems reluctant to part with any members of their core.

If Boston still wants an upgrade, it may find better luck with Davis Bertans; Mannix reports there's a "feeling around the league" that the Washington Wizards "almost have to shop" the 27-year-old big man, who is averaging 15.3 points per game and shooting 43.4 percent from 3-point range amid a breakout season.

What to make of the Celtics amid their midseason tailspin

What to make of the Celtics amid their midseason tailspin

MILWAUKEE — The Boston Celtics will arrive at the midway point of the 2019-20 season this weekend trying to pull themselves out of a tailspin that’s seen them drop five of their last seven games, including a pair of Eastern Conference showdowns with chief rivals Philadelphia and Milwaukee a week apart.

The Celtics have vacillated somewhere between enjoyable overachiever capable of pushing the East’s best to a maddening squad with fatal flaws that might prevent it from truly emerging in the conference. Sometimes they look like both in the same night.

Like on Thursday in Milwaukee when Boston dug itself a 27-point hole as the NBA-leading Bucks hit an absurd barrage of first-half 3-pointers. Just when it seemed fair to suggest that Boston’s early season success might have been the product on feasting on inferior competition, a Jaylen Brown-less Boston squad jumped on Kemba Walker’s back and nearly roared all the way back.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

As coach Brad Stevens likes to remind his team, you’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never far from either. The Celtics’ inability to field a fully healthy roster has clouded their overall potential and we’re left making bold proclamations off small samples of good and bad play.

Are the Celtics true contenders? Maybe, but the past couple weeks hasn’t helped their case. Boston is now 7-8 against teams over .500 and only two of those wins came on the road (both when an opponent was missing a key player). They whiffed with a chance to pounce on an Embiid-less Philly last week and then couldn’t capitalize on Giannis-less minutes after getting within single digits in the second half on Thursday night.

Do the Celtics need to make a move? Maybe, but it’d be a lot easier to judge if we could ever see all their puzzle pieces together. Boston’s bench play has been woeful at times and, for all the consternation about their lack of pure size, it sure feels like shooting is what they should be targeting. And yet it’s fair to wonder, if Brown plays on Thursday, and Marcus Smart shifts to his typical bench role, then maybe the bench production doesn’t look as meager.

Ultimately, bench pieces aren’t going to tip this thing one way or another. The Celtics are going to go as far as their five best players can carry them, as Stevens made clear after Thursday’s loss.

"We’re going to ride our best five, as we’ve talked about quite a bit, and then we just need everybody else to play a role around them,” said Stevens. "But we need those five to be awfully good.”

On this night, Walker was exceptional. On the same night that Kyrie Irving delivered one of his patented rants about roster flaws in Brooklyn, Walker challenged himself to be better after a disheartening loss to the Pistons. He responded with a 40-point, 11-rebound outburst in Milwaukee. As Stevens abridged, "Only reason we had a chance.”

The coach added, “It's not [Walker’s] responsibility to be responsible for everybody else’s energy but I’m glad that he accepts it. I’m glad that he wants that. He certainly brought it tonight. He was awfully special tonight.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Gordon Hayward, who has been on a bit of a roller coaster since returning from nerve pain in his foot on Christmas Day. Hayward missed nine of the 10 shots he took — including eight 3-pointers — while finishing with 7 points over 32:15.

“I thought we had some good looks, especially personally, I had some good looks. But we just didn’t make them,” said Hayward. “Have to be better next time.”

But that only accentuates Boston’s rather thin margin for error against the elite (and maybe the not-so elite, too). The team had been undefeated this season when playing without Brown but they really missed him on Thursday. The Celtics don’t have the sort of top-end talent that can win a game individually (though Walker sure as hell tried on Thursday).

A February 6 trade deadline looms. It’s hard to imagine the Celtics making a big-splash move but adding a bench piece — if for no other reason than the run of injuries this team continues to endure — remains something the team must consider. Maybe that’s using picks to help fetch a shooter, or maybe it’s just thumbing through the scrap heap for someone who can be a more steady eighth or ninth man. The youngsters on this team have had their moments but they’re also being asked to do a lot at young ages.

It was telling, though, Thursday when Boston cut its deficit to 8 and Antetokounmpo headed to the bench with just under five minutes to play in the third quarter. Boston should have capitalized but its sub lineups floundered and Milwaukee pushed its lead back up to 20 before Antetokounmpo returned at the end of the quarter. A second Boston run came up just short at the end of the game.

Stevens glowed about how the second half looked more like “Celtics basketball.” Smart insisted the team wouldn’t overreact to this rough patch.

"It’s the NBA. You can’t get discouraged off that,” said Smart. "We’ve played two back-to-back nights and stuff like that. You can’t let that discourage you. That’s part of it. We’re at the 40-game mark. It happens.”

Maybe he’s right. Still, watching this team on a daily basis, we yearn for a glimpse of this team when whole. But who knows if it’ll ever happen. Robert Williams could be a nice jolt for the center rotation if he’s able to come back after the All-Star break but that’s unlikely to alter the path of this team much.

No, the success of this team more likely hinges on Smart, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, and Walker.

“I think we’re still pretty good,” said Hayward. "I don’t think the team is down or anything like that. I think we realize we’ve got work to do and we get right back to it.”

The quest to figure out exactly what these Celtics are continues. They’re not as good as we though they were, they’re not as bad as some will make it seem now. But they’re never quite far from either.