By Mark Paulette
We New Englanders possess many wonderful characteristics when it comes to our beloved teams. We are passionate and feisty. Salty and sarcastic. And no matter how badly we may get spurned, we always remain faithful and comeback for more.
Though if we have one flaw, and I’m sure the other 44.5 states would tell you it’s more than one (Yes, New England consists of 5.5 states. Western Connecticut is basically southeast New York.) It’s our innate ability to erase all recent memory and judgement and hop aboard the emotional rollercoaster.
Two World Series titles and the single-greatest clutch resume in franchise history wasn’t enough to keep writers from penning David Ortiz’s obituary after a slow start to the 2009 season. When Tom Brady began the 2014 season at an unconvincing 2-2, even the greatest of all time wasn’t safe from rumblings that perhaps unproven rookie, Jimmy Garappolo, should replace him under center. Ortiz went on to hit 252 home runs, win a third world championship, get named MVP of the series and become a likely Hall of Famer. Brady, well, he’s turned in two mic-dropping performances in Super Bowls 49 and 51 and has spawned a new dynasty at an age when quarterbacks are supposed to ride into the sunset while singing “chicken parm you taste so good.”
Now, it’s Isaiah Thomas’ turn to face the unwarranted music. Throughout the 2016-17 campaign, we gladly marveled at “The Little Guy” as he carved defenses, got named to an All Star squad, was selected to the 2nd team All-NBA, became the “King of the Fourth” and averaged 29 points per game, a feat only Larry Bird had previously achieved in the hallowed history of the Boston Celtics. Not to mention the personal sacrifices this postseason which alone should be enough to merit approval from Green Teamers.
Yet, after going down with a season-ending hip injury in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals, the narrative which went unspoken during the regular season leapt to the forefront. Are the Celtics better without Isaiah Thomas?
Thomas was ranked the second-worst defensive point guard in the NBA during the season. Further, out of 309 qualified players, IT ranked last in defensive real plus/minus (-4.42) and defensive points saved (-149.6). This became most evident in Sunday’s improbable come-from-behind win in game three. With the absence of Thomas, the Celtics could flex their defensive muscle employing a back-court of Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley who kept the Cavaliers at bay just 48 hours after the Cavs embarrassed Boston by 44 points at The Garden.
Once again, the postgame stories quickly forgot the immense role Thomas played in getting the Celtics to the season’s penultimate act. Instead, the sexier topic of debate was where does general manager, Danny Ainge, go from here? Does he build around Thomas? Which either means dealing the number one pick in the draft or taking Markelle Fultz and hoping that Brad Stevens can make a back-court of Fultz and Thomas work. But if you take that road, then what happens to Avery Bradley, one of the league’s top defenders? Where does he fit into the scheme of such a team? What happens to Marcus Smart? The man who made the game three victory possible by hitting seven three pointers while bringing a level of intensity on the defensive end which Thomas simply can’t match.
Or, do you figure Thomas is going to command top money when he hits the open market at the end of the 2017-18 season and rather than build around him, you chose to deal the little guy? Maybe you can package him for a big man. In a perfect world, you could draft Fultz, sign a player the caliber of Gordon Heyward and swap IT for a decent big. But are we ready to part with Thomas after all he’s meant and the contributions he’s made in returning the Celtics to relevancy?
Be glad you’re not Ainge, because come Saturday morning (the likely start of the off-season) there are many questions which will need answering. I just spent two paragraphs posing seven, which I’m quite sure goes against every guideline for writing a literate and concise piece. But for once, just once, can we avoid pressing the delete button in our minds and blindly boarding the roller coaster? The Celtics aren’t in the Conference Finals without Thomas. While he is undoubtedly a defensive liability, one game doesn’t always necessitate a need for immediate change.
Mark Paulette is the Senior Producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.