Sports

A Q&A with NBA legend Isiah Thomas, about NBA star Isaiah Thomas

The Detroit Pistons hero shares a few thoughts about his namesake's magical playoff run with the Boston Celtics.
May 10, 2017, 1:17pm
MPS-USA TODAY Sports

As the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards get set to clash in the final two (or hopefully three, Basketball Gods willing) games of their contentious Eastern Conference Semifinals showdown, all eyes are on Celtics torchbearer Isaiah Thomas.

The two-time All-Star led Boston to a 2-0 series lead, then scuffled through a pair of blowouts in Washington D.C. After he scored 29 points in the final 17 minutes of Game 2, the 28-year-old only tallied 32 points combined in Games 3 and 4.

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To take a look at Thomas' unexpected journey up to and through this postseason, VICE Sports spoke with Turner Sports NBA analyst Isiah Thomas, a Hall of Fame point guard who Boston's own Isaiah has long referred to as a mentor. The conversation has been edited and condensed.


VICE Sports: My first question is where do you rank Isaiah's 53-point Game 2 among all the great individual playoff performances you've witnessed or been apart of over the years?

Isiah Thomas: It definitely ranks up there, very high on the list. The fact that he was able to do it in a playoff series with such a historical franchise, the Boston Celtics, and only be second to, I believe it's John Havlicek, in that great organization, of championships, teams, and players that they've put together. To have Isaiah be high on that list is definitely one of the best playoff performances we've seen.

VICE Sports: He's struggled a bit more over the past two games. In watching them, is that a function of Washington's defense or just Thomas being human for a couple nights? How do you think he can get back on track in Games 5 and 6?

Thomas: You always have to take what the defense gives you and Washington was determined defensively in their defensive schemes not to let Isaiah have that type of game again. So they pretty much loaded up against him and I thought he played a pretty smart game even though he didn't shoot the ball well. It's going to take, a not only a heroic effort from him, but a really team effort where they're all gonna have to shoot the ball well, and play well, and they're capable of doing that.

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VICE Sports: He was an All-Star last year and really established himself as a primary option on a playoff team, but did you expect him to elevate even higher this season to where he's now probably going to make an All-NBA team and was one of the leading scorers in the entire league? Does it surprise you at all, what you saw from him this year?

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Thomas: Knowing Isaiah the way we all do, nothing that he does out on the basketball floor surprises any of us, because we know the type of person he is and the type of determination that he has, and his only goal is to be the best. He articulates it, then tries to go out and back it up. He sets his goals and standards very high, and, again, those of us who've known him for a while, know that he tries to reach his goals and accomplish the standards that he sets for himself.

VICE Sports: You've mentioned Thomas as a fringe MVP candidate before, where do you think he ranks among point guards in today's league, and where would he actually land on your MVP ballot?

Thomas: He's definitely on the MVP ballot, with what he's done for that Boston franchise, and the type of season that he's had. His season has been just as good as the Hardens and the Westbrooks of the world. And the LeBrons of the world. You know all those guys have had spectacular seasons and they've lifted their teams up to spectacular heights over the course of this NBA season.

In terms of where he ranks with the point guards, you know this is an era where you have a pretty sufficient group of point guards playing at a very high level. And I don't think that, at this particular time, no one has claimed the throne. You can't look in this era and say right now who is the best because they're all playing extremely good. And I think it's too early in the process to really give any of them rankings. At the end of it, I think we'll be able to look back on this era and be able to say who was the best, who was number two, who was number three.

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VICE Sports: Teams have attacked Thomas on the defensive end all season, but have really gone out of their way to do so in the playoffs. Do you think his defense is truly something that prevents him from being the best player on a championship team, or is it something he and the Celtics can eventually overcome?

Thomas: I've been pretty consistent with this all year. I think perimeter defense for all the point guards playing in this era right now, I wouldn't say that there's any dominant defensive player in the point guard position today. So all of them are exceptional offensive players, but I wouldn't pick out, I couldn't single out—with the exception of the Patrick Beverleys of the world—when you're talking about guys scoring 20-plus points a night, I wouldn't say any of them are exceptional defenders.

VICE Sports: Would you agree that opposing teams are seeking him out, going out of their normal offensive system to attack him with mismatches?

Thomas: I'm watching the games and I don't see them going out of their way to attack him. Just like any other team, you may find a mismatch. I see more of point guards using the big man out on the perimeter as a mismatch than I do small guards getting posted up.

VICE Sports: If you worked in Boston's front office, how would you treat Isaiah's looming contract situation. A lot can happen between now and next summer, but what do you think their priority should be when you factor in the Brooklyn pick potentially being another point guard. Do you think signing him to a max contract in 2018 is a no-brainer or is that too far in the future to say?

Thomas: Since the time that I entered into the NBA, the Celtics franchise and the Celtics players and front office, they've always been mentors of mine, and I've always learned from what they do. So I'm never in a position to give anyone from the Celtics or their organization any advice. I will sit back and watch and learn from what they do.

VICE Sports: Are there any questions I didn't ask that you wish I had, or anything else you'd like to say about Isaiah that you haven't already?

Thomas: I would like to just say that the thing that has impressed me the most this year about him, not his scoring, but the way he's led his team. I think he's developed into quite a leader over these last couple of years. Going from a single man to a married man, having kids, leading that Celtics team and becoming the face of that organization. Coming from where he's come from, it takes a pretty special person to do that in a Celtics uniform.