Top 5 Boston Celtics players of the 21st century

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Kevin Garnett
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Kevin Garnett /
3 of 7
Boston Celtics: Danny Ainge should just say no
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

No. 5: Isaiah Thomas

Let’s get controversial, right from the get go! Isaiah Thomas over Ray Allen, yes, we went there! Only on Chowder and Champions, folks. Buy a mug.

Look, I get why this is going to ruffle some feathers. Allen was on the team for five seasons and brought Boston a championship; Thomas was here for two and a quarter seasons, and his teams never had a shot at a trophy. On face value, this is bonkers. But indulge me, if you will. Let’s reminisce about Thomas’s time with the Boston Celtics.

Let’s not forget where Boston came from. A few short years ago, the Celtics had no clear post-championship-team path. Were they going to build around Rondo and Jeff Green? (Good call there, Danny Ainge, good call). Were they going to go into a painful rebuild, like the Philadelphia 76ers?

Luckily, the Celtics only dwelled in the cellar for one year. Avery Bradley emerged as a reliable shooter and a defensive menace; Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart brought an edge of toughness. And then, of course, there was Isaiah Thomas, whose emergence propelled the Celtics back to the playoffs. In his 30 PPG season, Boston marched all the way through to the Eastern Conference Finals, getting back there way ahead of any reasonable timeline for the franchise.

In his short time with the team, Thomas grew from exciting sixth man to reliable spark plug to offensive catalyst to MVP candidate. But Isaiah Thomas did more than accumulate stats, more than bring the Celtics back to the playoffs. He brought magic back to the Garden. The “King of the Fourth” always seemed to have a dagger in his pocket, and his finishes around the rim were often flat-out unfathomable.

The Celtics formed their entire identity around Thomas. They were a scrappy squad of overachievers who won thanks to unmatched effort and some magic from The Little Guy. They managed to feel like an underdog even as they marched to the top seed in the conference.

Look at this quote from Thomas’s article on The Players’ Tribune. He was reflecting on the show of support from the Celtics crowd when he played just hours after the death of his sister, Chyna.

"I can’t even describe it. The applause that I got, I can still hear it. People had these signs they made, and I can still see them: THIS IS FOR CHYNA. WE <3 ISAIAH. That sort of thing. Then they did a moment of silence, the whole arena, in Chyna’s honor. And it was like … man. I just realized, in that moment, that I didn’t need the court to shield me. I didn’t need to block it all out, and pretend I wasn’t grieving. I didn’t have to be alone in this. The whole arena was right there with me. Honestly, it felt like the whole city of Boston was with me…   And at that point, you know, I think it just kind of hit me, like — of course I’ve gotta play. First of all, I’m going to do it for Chyna, and for my family. But then I’m also going to do it for my city. ’Cause what they’re showing me right now, is all I needed tonight: to know I’m not alone."

In his very first game for the Celtics, he received two technical fouls; an automatic ejection. That was his first game. If that’s not a Celtics player right there, I don’t know what is.

And then this quote is just utterly heartbreaking.

"I’ll never be Tom Brady now. And I’ll never be David Ortiz. I’ll never be Bill Russell, or Paul Pierce, or Kevin Garnett, or Larry Bird. But whether I would have without this trade, or I wouldn’t have — I still like to imagine one thing. I like to imagine that sometime not long from now, somewhere in Boston, someone is going to be a parent, talking basketball to their kid. And their kid is going to ask them, point-blank like kids do, you know, “Yo — why you become a Celtics fan?” And that parent, man, they’re going to think back to themselves — really think on it. And then they’re going to smile, and tell the truth. “I saw Isaiah Thomas play.” That would make me very happy. For me, I think, that’d be enough."

Thomas became a beloved Boston Celtics icon in his (cough) short time here, and he loved the city right back.  More importantly, he brought the Celtics to the Conference Finals. That Conference Finals berth re-legitimized the franchise, and probably helped seal the deal in the Gordon Hayward pursuit.

He singlehandedly made a trip to the Garden exciting again. While his time here ended far too soon, The Little Guy is not going to be forgotten.