It was supposed to be Isaiah Thomas’ time to shine.
It was the spring of 2017 and he was leading the Celtics into the playoffs after averaging a career-best 28.9 points per game, a dominant season that included him being a top-5 finisher for the league’s MVP award.
Thomas had taken us all on a magical basketball ride all season, one that had the last pick of the 2011 NBA draft at the top of the basketball world.
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That all changed April 15, 2017, when his younger sister, Chyna Thomas, was killed in a one-car accident in Federal Way, Washington just days before the start of what Thomas was hell-bent on being a memorable postseason journey for him and the top-seeded Celtics.
He was devastated.
Yet there he was, on the floor doing a lot of things we had seen him do all season.
And as most Celtics fans know, I.T. was preh-tee damn good that year!
In Game 1 against Chicago just two days after his sister’s death, he scored 33 points but Boston came up short, 106-102. The Celtics would drop Game 2 at home as well.
Heading on the road for Game 3, the Bulls were without former Celtic Rajon Rondo (hand) which would prove to be a major factor in the series. So was Boston, as the C's were playing a more desperate brand of basketball which included the insertion of Gerald Green into the starting lineup after not playing (coach's decision) in Game 2 while logging just under six minutes in Game 1.
Boston would rally to win the series and eventually advance to the Eastern Conference Finals where the Celtics lost in five games to Cleveland.
Regardless, the way Thomas handled the most devastating of situations … It was a Boston Strong moment the likes we had not seen before.
Isaiah and I have talked about that series since then, and he always reminds me of how thankful he was of the fans who offered support and stood by his side, helping him successfully navigate through the toughest stretch of his life.
But truthfully, we’re the ones that should be thanking him.
He reminded us all of the importance of channeling great pain into great perseverance when tragedy strikes, knowing that you’re not alone in whatever trials and tribulations you might be going through.
It was an important lesson Thomas taught us three years ago, and it seems even more valuable today as we grapple with how to best handle the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Thomas didn’t lead the Celtics to an NBA title and his basketball career never got back to where it was during that magical 2016-2017 season.
But his impact on this franchise — specifically how he channeled his deep pain into other-wordly play — is the legacy he leaves behind in Boston as he took us all on a postseason run for the ages.
Not because of the final destination but the journey itself, which will never be forgotten.