I’m not one to overly praise the Celtics for any of their successes, but it’s pretty clear they are on a roll in the playoffs now. After falling behind to the Bulls 0-2 in the 1st round, the C’s have rattled off six straight W’s to close out Chicago and then hold their home court against the Wizards.
Key to this streak has been the play of Isaiah Thomas, who, while dealing with the tragic death of his sister in a car accident, has performed up to his all-star abilities to carry the C’s offense. His play culminated with a 53 point outburst in an OT win over Washington on Tuesday, the day which would have been his recently passed sister’s 23rd birthday. To say this was an emotional day isn’t doing the circumstances justice and after the game Thomas remarked that he’s playing this way for her.
Thomas will be the first to tell you, though, that his play isn’t just about him, but also about those around him who have shown him support and aided him in his preparation to get on the court to perform. While most would think this only about his personal and professional family with the Celtics. Thomas also credited one Kobe Bean Bryant for helping him out as him and his team have reached their stride:
Isaiah Thomas details how Kobe Bryant has helped him this postseason. pic.twitter.com/Vpd4XuZYjp
— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) May 3, 2017
The fact that Kobe would help a Celtic seems sacrilege to many Lakers fans, I’m sure. But Kobe has been known to offer his advice and tips to players more than once and, during the off-season will also work out with guys from other teams to help them grow their games by lending some of the expertise which made him one of the greatest players the NBA has seen. Gordon Hayward is one of the more recent examples and, I’m guessing, there will be even more this summer — including, if you ask Rob Pelinka, a couple of Lakers (ahem, Brandon Ingram and D’Angelo Russell). So, just because Thomas is a Celtic, especially now that Kobe is in retirement, means very little.
Kobe is clearly fond of Thomas, too. He recently dedicated one of his “Musecage” videos to Thomas’ exploits, dubbing him The Mighty I.T. for an animated short which aired Sunday:
Not to pile on here either, but beyond Kobe offering an assist to Thomas, there’s a real argument to be made that I.T. should actually be a member of the Lakers. Taken with the 60th and final pick of the 2011 draft, the Lakers had 4 chances to select Thomas in the 2nd round that season but passed on him every time. They instead spent picks on Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Chukwudiebere Maduabum, and Ater Majok. The latter two of those players have not played in the NBA were taken four and two spots respectively ahead of Thomas.
While passing on Thomas in the draft can be understood (every other team did too), when he was a restricted free agent in the summer of 2014, he practically begged the Lakers to sign him to an offer sheet, only for the team to pass him over in favor of chasing Carmelo Anthony and trying to retain Pau Gasol. When those signings did not materialize, the Lakers re-upped Nick Young and Jordan Hill, put in a “winning” amnesty bid on Carlos Boozer, and traded for Jeremy Lin (which netted them the draft pick which became Larry Nance, Jr.).
Thomas went on to sign a great value contract with the Suns, who didn’t even need Thomas because they already had Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe at point guard. Predictably, the Suns weren’t able to leverage their 3 PG’s into viable lineups, chemistry suffered, and Thomas was traded to the Celtics as part of a massive PG swap which saw Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Knight, and the pick the Lakers owed the Suns from the Steve Nash deal all changing hands that day.
And while it’s impossible to say if Thomas would have blossomed in Los Angeles as he has in Boston (remember, the Lakers hired Byron Scott the same summer Thomas was a FA), to see a player who wanted to be a Laker end up on the hated Celtics and now play at an All-NBA level doesn’t feel great. To hear that Kobe offered him a nice assist during this playoff run is just the cherry on the sundae.