In a perfect world, Isaiah Thomas would likely be leading the Boston Celtics onto the court at the Barclays Center for a pivotal Game 5 bout with the Brooklyn Nets. However, some things are simply not meant to be.
At his height, the diminutive point guard was one of the league’s most vaunted offensive threats. An MVP candidate whose 28.9 points per game in 2016 ranked third behind only Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Thomas appeared to have asserted himself as a staying force in the league. That is until a devastating hip injury derailed his All-Star career.
The guard gutted his way through the majority of the team’s Eastern Conference Finals run in the 2017 playoffs. Throughout the run, Thomas electrified, putting forth some of the most memorable performances in Celtics history, including a 53-point explosion against the Washington Wizards in the semifinals round. However, the decision to play through the pain left a damning effect on Thomas’ career outlook, a decision that he may have thought twice about had the Celtics been a bit more forthright.
“The only thing that I think they [the Celtics] handled wrong was not explaining to me what the extent of my injury could be if I do play,” Thomas said, while appearing on the All The Smoke podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson. “That was the biggest thing for me that I disliked. ‘Cause nobody gave me no insight, ‘OK, you do play, this can happen.'”
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Thomas: ‘If I Don’t Play, They Gonna Forget About Me’
Thomas went on to explain that the injury was first sustained during a March 15th game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but continued to worsen throughout the playoffs. The former second-round pick noted that the team initially labeled the injury as a bone bruise.
“If you’re gonna tell me it’s a bone bruise, I’m playing 10 times out of 10,” Thomas said. “I’m 5-foot-9-inches. If I don’t play, they gonna forget about me… That’s how I always felt, just being the smaller guard. I played through it, hurt myself even more.”
The injury would later go on to be deemed as a right femoral-acetabular impingement with a bruised hip and torn labrum, leading to him being shut down midway through the Conference Finals. Thomas never again suited up for the Cs as he was shipped off to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving in the offseason, and has since appeared in a total of 87 games with five different franchises.
Thomas’ most recent stint in the league came this season when he played three games with the New Orleans Pelicans. Over that span, the 32-year-old averaged 7.7 points on 33.3% shooting (25.0% from 3-point range) to go along with 1.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.
Would Thomas Have Played Anyways?
Whether the Celtics misdiagnosed his injury or rather weren’t fully transparent, there’s still a high chance Thomas would have taken the same route if presented with the same decision.
“I think the only reason why I continued to play in the playoffs was because I was going through a real-life situation with my little sister passing,” Thomas said, via SI.com’s Howard Beck. Thomas’ younger sister Chyna died in a car accident one day before the Celtics opened the playoffs.
“And that was the only thing that allowed me to have a clear head, for that two to three hours every time I played,” he stated. “So if I had to do it again, I probably would play again, just because that was the toughest time of my life. And basketball has always been the only thing that can numb whatever I’ve been going through.”