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.

Good news for Celtics: Kemba Walker 'ready to go' after 'needed' break

Good news for Celtics: Kemba Walker 'ready to go' after 'needed' break

Boston Celtics All-Star point guard Kemba Walker admitted he “wasn’t really happy” with the way he was playing before the 2019-20 NBA season paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, but said after a “needed” break that allowed him to rest a bothersome knee, he’s eager to get back on the court with his teammates for the Orlando restart.

Walker declared himself, “ready to go,” after using the downtime to heal a knee that hindered him over the final six weeks of play.

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“[The break was] super important for me. I really, really needed to get that break,” said Walker. "It definitely helped me get back to myself and start to feel comfortable on my knee. It was a very unfortunate time but it was in my best interests for sure. So I’m pretty comfortable with the way the schedule is and I’m just going to keep on taking care of myself. That’s really all I can do, so I’m just going to stay on top of things and take it day by day.”

Walker earned his All-Star nod by averaging 22 points per game while shooting 38.8 percent beyond the 3-point arc through the end of January. A sore knee first forced him to sit out on January 18 but sidelined him for two longer stretches — and nine total games — in February. Walker averaged just 16.8 points while shooting 31.7 percent overall and 31.3 percent beyond the 3-point arc in his final eight games before the season paused.

Some of Walker’s struggles were masked by Jayson Tatum’s ascension. But the Celtics know they need a healthy Walker to reach their loftiest goals in Orlando.

"I’m definitely ready to try and expand my game to higher levels so we can just be a better team,” said Walker. "Especially the way I ended the season, I wasn’t really happy with the way I was playing. So I’m excited.”

Walker admitted he’s still trying to get back into game shape. But the downtime allowed him to really examine how he can best help the Celtics.

“I’m a lot more comfortable, especially realizing the change and everything that went down during the season, the ups and downs,” said Walker. "I’m definitely more comfortable with my teammates. We’ve been talking all quarantine. I got a chance to watch a lot of games over the quarantine, so, yeah, I think I’m more comfortable. I’m ready to go.

"We're pretty excited. I know everyone is just excited to see each other. From Day 1, honestly, with this team, our vibe and our chemistry was already there for a very long time. That first day anybody had seen anyone, it was like we were with each other yesterday, you know? It's that kind of team we have. We're just so close and we're just looking forward to going out there and just handling our business.”

Walker said he’s not particularly concerned about the recent COVID spike in Florida and believes the NBA will do everything to ensure player safety. As for worries about being stuck inside the bubble for a particularly lengthy stretch if the Celtics embark on a long playoff run, Walker dismissed that while noting, “All I do is stay in the house anyways, so there's nothing wrong with me staying in a [hotel] room.”

Added Walker: "I'm actually looking forward to it just because I'm ready to play basketball.”

2020 NBA restart: No Celtics have opted out of Orlando, Brad Stevens says

2020 NBA restart: No Celtics have opted out of Orlando, Brad Stevens says

The Boston Celtics plan on being fully operational in Orlando later this month.

None of Brad Stevens' players have informed him they won't play in the NBA's restarted 2019-20 season, the Celtics head coach confirmed Wednesday in a video conference with reporters.

Stevens also confirmed no Celtics players or staffers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the NBA began testing in early June.

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Players still can opt out of the NBA "bubble" at any point before or during the eight-game "seeding" round, which for Boston begins July 31 with a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. But July 1 was the NBA's imposed deadline for players to opt out to allow teams to sign replacement players, and it appears that deadline will pass with the Celtics' roster intact.

Several players from the other 21 bubble teams have decided not to play, including Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans, Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley and Brooklyn Nets big man DeAndre Jordan.

Many players have concerns about their personal health and the health of their families as they travel to Florida, which has seen a spike in positive COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks.

Yet those concerns aren't driving away any Celtics players, many of whom have been working out in Boston during the NBA's hiatus and appear on board with the league's restart plan.