BOSTON — What might have been if the Celtics had kept Isaiah Thomas around instead of dealing him for Kyrie Irving?
"We would have probably won a championship already,” Thomas confidently declared after his Denver Nuggets posted a 114-105 triumph over the Celtics in his first game back on the court in at TD Garden since the jaw-dropper that delivered him to Cleveland in August 2017.
“It was tough when it happened because it was out of nowhere and I was hurt,” said Thomas. “If I was able to play off the trade, I think it would have been easier for me to get through that. But I don't hold any grudges. I'm through it. Things happen. Everything happens for a reason and I'm just glad to be back healthy and be back out there.”
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Denver’s win clinched a playoff spot for the Nuggets, who also shuffled into a tie with the Golden State Warriors atop the Western Conference standings. And, while Thomas' opinion is heavily biased, particularly coming on an emotional night where he was honored by his former team, he believes the current iteration of Boston’s roster is still built for postseason success.
“They’re going to go deep in the playoffs,” said Thomas. Given all of Boston’s up-and-down play this season, he was pressed on why he’s so bullish on the Celtics' chances?
“They got too many talented guys. And that’s not a bad thing,” said Thomas. “But, you see, when those [young] guys went all the way to Game 7 without the main guys [Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward], and then the main guys come back, and it’s tough for anybody to take a back seat. So it’s tough.
"I know [coach] Brad [Stevens] has a tough job, and those guys have a tough job, wanting to be where they thought they would be, but the [younger] guys gotta take a back seat because that’s just what it is. I mean, they’ll figure it out. They’re a great team, they’ve got a great coaching staff, they got guys with no egos. They’ll figure it out when the time needs to.”
The idea of a Celtics-Nuggets Finals was then pitched to Thomas, who smiled wide at the suggestion.
"Hell yeah, and I’ll play,” said Thomas. "That would be perfect. I’d love that. But any time coming back here would be a perfect situation.”
Thomas kept a sense of humor about his own scoreless performance after logging seven first-quarter minutes in the aftermath of his emotional tribute video.
"I didn’t think I missed in this building but I haven’t been here in a while,” he cracked. "But I was just glad that I was able to get out there and play no matter how long I played. It was fun to be able to do that in front of the best fans in the world.”
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In a sprawling postgame press conference, Thomas showed all the emotions that made him so revered here. There was a combination of nostalgia, confidence, and brutal honesty in many of his responses:
*How his green and gold Nikes were originally scheduled to be worn if the Celtics made the Finals in 2017 ("I knew coming back here I was going to wear something Celtics green,” said Thomas).
*How he playfully trash-talked former teammate Jaylen Brown during Monday’s game (“He always thought he could guard me but I told him I need six hands around me. I need three people to guard me,” said Thomas).
*How his short time in Boston was truly legendary. Said Thomas: “Those moments were everything and we did some legendary s---. I did some legendary s---, too. I'm just appreciative of those moments, I'm appreciative of being able to play for the Boston Celtics. You can't always say that. That's one of the top teams in the world, no matter what sport you're a part of."
Near the end of his session in front of a horde of cameras and microphones, Thomas was asked to sum up the city of Boston in a word or a sentence, Thomas again revealed his bias.
“Home,” he answered. "I went through a real-life situation here when I lost my sister [Chyna] that this whole city and organization went through with me,” said Thomas. "And I think that’s why … the love is always there, but that’s what took it to another level. I went through the worst situation you can possibly go through in life with these people and they were right there with me.
"Everybody in the city, the organization, they were right there with me, they went through that with me. That’s why Boston means so much to me.”
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