Isaiah Thomas was due a warm welcome back to the TD Garden this week when the Cleveland Cavaliers faced the Boston Celtics for the first time in Boston this season.
Unfortunately, IT’s minutes have been restricted since returning from a lengthy hip-injury. He made his season debut in a 127-110 win over the Portland Trail-Blazers on Tuesday, dropping 17 points in 19 minutes. The Cavaliers have vowed not to play Isaiah in back-to-back games to ease him back in to the schedule.
Despite not featuring in the game at the TD garden, Isaiah came out from the locker room during the first quarter and received a standing-ovation from the Boston crowd. Before the game, he had requested not to receive a video package pre-game, opting to wait until he was playing on Feb 11th.
IT’s impact in Boston over a two year stretch was remarkable. When he first joined the Celtics, it was a team that had been re-building since, coincidentally, the departure of the Big 3 of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. After joining the Celtics, IT improved their regular season record to .585, the highest it had been since 2011/2012. Isaiah proved his worth being named a two-time NBA All-Star. He was the driving force in leading Boston to the first seed of the Eastern Conference in 2016/2017.
So with the impact he made, it is easy to see why there was reasonable hype around Isaiah Thomas’ return to Boston. But a problem has risen.
February 11th also marks the retirement of Paul Pierce’s Number 34 jersey.
To make matters worse, Pierce came out publicly against Isaiah pushing back his video tribute to the February 11th date.
“I’m not saying Isaiah shouldn’t get a tribute video … but on Feb. 11, the night I get my jersey retired, I’m not sure I want to look up at the JumboTron and see Isaiah highlights.”
Jersey retirements have a special sentimental value to many fans. Kobe Bryant’s dual jersey retirement was a special night for all that appreciated his efforts on the court. If done right, they can be the perfect cap on a career.
During game downtime, the Lakers showed highlights videos of Bryant as a tribute to the night that was in it. Paul Pierce expressed his fondness for something similar, but reiterated his unpleasantness at the attention being taken away from him.
“I enjoyed watching that throughout the game. Hopefully the Boston Celtics will do that for me. I’m not sure I want to see an Isaiah video that night.” – Quotes from ESPN.com
It’s not the best situation imaginable. The Celtics have nearly stabbed themselves in the foot for even getting to this predicament. They probably assumed Pierce wouldn’t mind the tribute, or anything associated with IT pre-game as the two had a good relationship while Thomas was in Boston.
The pre-game video is just one element of a special night for Boston fans seeing Isaiah return to the TD Garden. He will likely be given a very warm welcome in the team line-up announcement. Throughout the game, we can probably expect fans to be lushing over IT if he knocks down a basket.
Put yourself in Paul Pierce’s shoes. You see the video-tribute. You see the warm reception given. The crowd reacts throughout the game for an opposing player that has spent 13 less seasons than you in the city. This is your jersey-retirement night, and yet the entire game (apart from the half-time ceremony) – fans are focused on IT.
Pierce is deservedly having his famed ’34’ jersey retired this year. Having finished out his career with the Nets, Wizards and Clippers respectively, Pierce spent fifteen seasons in Boston and became the face of the franchise for almost the entirety of that run.
He holds the franchise record for 3-pointers-made and steals, and features in the top 5 of all-time in franchise history for points, minutes played, assists and blocks. It took Pierce ten years to achieve a title. The 2008 Big three took the Eastern Conference and NBA championship, and later repeated Eastern Conference success in 2010.
He may not have been the most decorated Celtic, but Paul Pierce kept Boston above water in some of its darkest years. Given its rich history of rings, Pierce embodied a unique loyalty to the Celtics to achieve greater things in the 2000s. Sure, he could have went and joined his boyhood team in LA and teamed up with Kobe or Shaq. He could have fitted in well under a Greg Poppovich Spurs side that won three titles in the 2000s.
Instead, Pierce became a part of Boston and it’s culture. Just as you would associate Michael Jordan with the Bulls, you associated Paul Pierce with the Celtics.
And for one night only, I think you can afford him a bit of shine.
Featured photo credit – wcvb.com