BOSTON -- As the Celtics and Nuggets locker rooms cleared out, Isaiah Thomas was doing what he has done quite a bit of when he was in Boston and since he left - talking with Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.
The two have a connection that - even after Thomas left and is now on his third team in less than two years - is extremely tight.
No surprise Stevens was among the biggest fans of the video tribute for Thomas following the first timeout in the first quarter of Denver's 114-105 victory on Monday night.
“Well-deserved ten times over,” said Stevens when asked about the reaction of the fans to Thomas’ video. “You know, like I can’t say enough great things about Isaiah. I could sit up here all night and certainly that video tribute was great. Our people did a great job on it; it was very - it was emotional and it was - it could’ve lasted a lot longer. So, greatly appreciative of our time together and it was…I was glad that he got that moment.”
Celtics forward Marcus Morris echoed similar sentiments.
“Great moment, man, for a guy like that who’s put his heart and soul into everything he did,” Morris told reporters after the game. “He deserved every second of that. Wish him nothing but the best down the road, just happy to see him out there.”
Thomas, who returned to the TD Garden for the first time healthy enough to play since being traded in 2017, described the tribute video as “special” before adding, “It was emotional. I almost cried. Yeah, almost. That was everything. That meant a lot.”
The same can be said for his relationship with Stevens, one in which the two have stayed in touch with conversations and text messages being exchanged according to Thomas, on a monthly basis.
“He’s always somebody that sends a really nice text no matter what they’re going through or what I’m going through,” Thomas said of Stevens. “We stay in contact. He’s a big part of my career; the best coach I’ve ever been coached by.”
In Thomas’ two-plus seasons with the Celtics, he went from being a reserve who could provide an offensive lift off the bench, to becoming a two-time All-Star who evolved into the face of the franchise for his clutch shooting, particularly in the fourth quarter.
But a hip injury in the team’s 2017 playoff run sidelined him for the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals, and he was part of a blockbuster trade later that summer that shipped him off to Cleveland while Boston got six-time All-Star Kyrie Irving in return.
Irving, who had spent his entire NBA career in Cleveland before demanding a trade in the summer of 2017 that eventually landed him in Boston, can understand the deep-rooted connections that Thomas feels with the Boston community.
“You have a plan where you'd like to stay somewhere then the organization moves in another direction,” Irving told reporters. “We respect all those guys who are in the top positions to make those decisions but you can just see that the connection that guys have with fans that they build in the community sticks with them for the rest of their careers and the fans support them for the rest of their careers, for the most part at least. It’s just awesome.
Irving added, “It’s well documented what he’s done here. For me, it’s a unique position because I’m the one that got traded for him. I just want to see him do well. We got drafted the same year. He’s dealt with a lot of BS in his career, just trying to be the underdog all of the time instead of getting the opportunity he deserves. Boston gave him that opportunity and he flourished. He’ll be back at the top of his game in no time. You don’t ever got to worry about a talented guy like that finding a job in the NBA and making an impact somewhere.”
And while Thomas has made it clear that his focus at the moment is doing all he can to help the Nuggets go deep as possible in the postseason (their win over Boston made them playoff-eligible for the first time since 2013), Thomas has made it clear that he’s more than open to the idea of coming back to Boston.
“Why not? If the opportunity presents itself, that would be everything,” Thomas said. “I’m a Nugget right now. I’m happy to be here. The Nuggets organization has taken me in with open arms and given me a chance to work my way back on my time; I can’t thank them enough. But if that opportunity is there [to come back to Boston], I’m open.”
And that opportunity he speaks of includes more than just a shot at playing, but playing for Stevens, who remains an integral part of Thomas’ life.
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