The Boston Celtics hosted the Denver Nuggets Monday night, but the game carried more significance than just jockeying for playoff positioning.
The Nuggets’ 114-105 victory not only pushed them to 47-22, but it gave former Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas a chance to return to TD Garden for the first time as an active player since his trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers in two summers ago.
During the first timeout, the Celtics played a tribute video for Thomas, which led to a prolonged standing ovation from an appreciative Boston crowd.
The 5-foot-9 guard reciprocated the love after the game. After a Boston fan said, “No fourth quarter here has been the same without you,” Thomas responded with a quick “I’ll be back.”
The Sacramento Kings took Thomas with the 60th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He become the starter point guard for a dismal Kings franchise for three seasons before being traded to Phoenix for the 2014-15 season. After leaving for Boston the next season, he hit his stride.
Thomas turned into an MVP candidate in 2016-17, averaging 28.9 points per game, and as Quenton Alberte at Celtics Wire puts it, Thomas earned the nickname King of the Fourth “for his tremendous play in the clutch.”
Prior to the game, Thomas made it clear he wants to finish his career in Beantown.
“These were the most fun times of my career. I turned into a superstar here…playing for the Celtics changed my whole career, on and off the floor.”
He continued to say the tribute video moment was one of the more special moments in the 30-year old’s career.
“That was big, that was special,” he said at the postgame presser. “I wish my family was here to see that, but they watched it. I was emotional, I almost cried. That was everything, I appreciate them for doing that, that meant a lot.
“It’s up there. I mean, I got my college jersey retired, that was big. But this is like, you can’t describe that feeling. My teammates felt that, and they wasn’t even part of that. It was big time, I appreciate them for doing that, that meant a lot, especially — I mean, I’ve been able to be in a situation where I’m able to play right now. This type of love is something I wanted, I needed, and I’m glad I was able to come back and the love was just amazing.”
Thomas mentioned that he had conversations with Celtics general manager Danny Ainge during free agency last season.
“I know we left on bad terms with me being traded. I wanted them to know that the interest was there. I didn’t know if they were interested, and I wasn’t saying I wanted to come back and be the guy. I was just saying if the opportunity presents itself, just know I’m interested,” said Thomas.
Thomas hits the free agent market next summer.
“You never know. You can’t predict the future. My options are always open for anybody. I’m a Denver Nugget now, but I’m a free agent at the end of the season, and you never know what can happen. Who knows?”
Boston may need him. The Celtics could lose Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier this upcoming offseason. Brad Stevens would probably want to pair Thomas with a better defending point guard, but Thomas would sell tickets as a sparkplug on offense.
Thomas is a career 18.6 points per game scorer (36 percent from deep), while also facilitating teammates at 5.1 assists per contest.
He’s affordable, too, costing Denver just over $2 million for a 1-year deal this season.