Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas wanted to keep playing in the Eastern Conference finals, but team doctors and officials convinced him he needed to shut down his season for his long-term health.
“They had multiple people come in and talk to me about what’s more important,” Thomas said Friday, a day after the Celtics were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers. “But I definitely wasn’t trying to hear that at that point in time.”
Thomas injured the hip in March and aggravated it in the second-round series against Washington. He played three halves against the Cavaliers before limping off the court in the middle of Game 2.
The Celtics lost that game by 44 points to fall behind 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, then announced the next day that Thomas was done for the season. Still, they beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland the next game before falling easily in Games 4 and 5.
“Eastern Conference finals, that’s the biggest stage I’ve ever been on,” Thomas said at the team’s practice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts. “To not be able to go back out there in that second half and continue that series was painful. Like it hurt me.”
Speaking for the first time since the end of his season, Thomas said he might need surgery but it’s “not the No. 1 option right now.” He will have to wait for more tests until the swelling goes down, he said.
Thomas said he never doubted that coach Brad Stevens and general manager Danny Ainge were more concerned about his future than getting him back into the game.
“They care about my health, not just being a basketball player,” Thomas said. “But nobody’s going to feel sorry for me. I just have to keep going and figure out what I’ve got do to come back at the highest level possible.”
Thomas gave his doctors clear instructions on what he expects:
“Whatever they have to do to continue to play at — not just a normal level — at an MVP level, that’s what I’ve been on the doctors about,” he said.
“No matter what happens, let’s make sure I come back even better. And I will.”
The last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas has emerged as an All-Star in Boston. But on the eve of the postseason, his sister died in a car accident in Washington state.
Then, after spending much of his free time flying cross-country to be with his family, Thomas had a tooth knocked out in Game 1 of the conference semifinals against Washington. In Game 2, he scored 53 points — one shy of John Havlicek’s franchise record.
“It made me look back to see how fast everything can be taken away from me,” Thomas said. “It’s been the best season of my career, but it’s also been the toughest year of my life. So however you want to take that, that’s how the season’s been.”
The 5-foot-8 point guard said he wants to play until he’s 40, and he’d like to do it in Boston. He is eligible for free agency after next season.
But the Celtics have the No. 1 pick in the draft, along with the salary cap space to sign a top free agent.
“I want to win a championship,” Thomas said “And being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.”