BOSTON (CBS) -- Isaiah Thomas is returning to Boston, and life is much different for the former Celtics fan favorite this time around.
"I'm at a good place mentally," Thomas said in a feature on Bleacher Report. "I got my joy back."
Not much has gone Thomas' way since his final months in Boston, and it has led to a long road to recovery for the former MVP candidate. He lost his younger sister the day before the 2016-17 postseason, but played through that emotional pain. He played through actual pain a few days later when he lost two teeth during Game 1 of Boston's second-round series against the Washington Wizards, which required a pair of lengthy stints in a dentist chair. He answered the bell a few nights later with a career game, dropping 53 points on his future team -- on the night of his late sister's birthday. It was a special moment that Celtics fans won't soon forget, even if Thomas is no longer part of the team's fabric.
Thomas was also playing on a bad hip during that thrilling series against the Wizards, and by the time Boston walked off the floor victorious in Game 7, he could barely move. He was shut down during the C's Eastern Conference Finals defeat at the hands of the Cavaliers, and a few months later, was dealt to Cleveland in Boston's blockbuster swap for Kyrie Irving. That move didn't work out particularly well for either side, but it really sent Thomas down an unpredictable path.
Any hope that Thomas had at landing a max contract went to the wayside when he destroyed his hip, and then again when the Celtics traded him. He never caught on in Cleveland, and was dealt to the Lakers later that season. He signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets last season, but was never able to crack Mike Malone's lineup.
Now, IT is in Washington, and some of that joy has returned with his return to an NBA starting lineup. In his previous two visits back to Boston, Thomas either wasn't playing (a la the Cavaliers in 2016) or wasn't starting (the Nuggets last season). There was more drama surrounding a tribute video that wasn't being played, or that some didn't think should be played, than there was about the player himself.
Boston fans greeted Thomas with love and cheers when he returned as a member of the Nuggets last year, and he soaked it all in when the team finally played that long awaited tribute video. Thomas only spent two-and-a-half seasons with the Celtics, but he helped take a team that had no real business of winning anything to an Eastern Conference Finals. In a time before the Celtics spent a few years as Eastern Conference favorites, Thomas made them watchable -- and more importantly -- fun.
Now he's back to being an NBA starter as a member of the Wizards, and will be back on the TD Garden floor Wednesday night. Thomas has started three of his six games for the Wizards this season, with Washington winning just one of those games (his first as a starter). In his three games in the starting lineup, IT is averaging 10 points off 38.7 percent shooting from the floor and 31 percent from three-point range, to go with five assists per contest.
Thomas is no longer the main attraction that he once was, and he will never get back to that level. But Boston fans will always appreciate what he did in his brief time in Celtics green, even if it didn't result in another banner for the franchise. Because of that relationship, Thomas will always hold Boston in high regards, even if things didn't end on the greatest of terms.
"Boston will always have my heart, because I went through a real-life situation there, and that city rolled with me," he told Bleacher Report. "I don't wish them bad luck. It's just, you can't duplicate what's real. What we had was real. There was a time I was upset. I felt like it was handled the wrong way for a franchise player. But I don't hold no grudges."
While he may not hold any grudges, that doesn't mean he won't be motivated to have a monster night against his old team, in front of his old fan base.
"Before the game it will be all fun and games and after the game. But once the game starts, they're the enemy. I'm just gonna try to win," he told NBC Sports in Washington. "I visualize going for 50 on them. That's the plan and to win the game. But I hope that night is not about me and it takes away from what this team is all about."
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