PORTLAND — The Celtics’ game against the Trail Blazers on Thursday night was expected to be filled with friends and family members of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley who had made the 150-mile drive from Tacoma, Wash.
For Thomas, a group of more than 30 people was to include childhood neighbors as well as some of his father’s co-workers at Boeing. Bradley said he thought a coterie of about 40 would be there to watch him.
While both players are touched by the support, they also wish it was easier for people from their hometown to come to their games. They wish there was still an NBA team in Seattle.
“When other players go to their home cities and are able to go to their favorite restaurants and take their teammates to where they’re from, I wish I could do that,” Bradley said. “I know Isaiah wishes he could do that. I would love to take everybody around, for them to be able to see where we’re from.”
In 2008, when Bradley and Thomas were just teenagers, the Sonics relocated from Seattle to Oklahoma City and were rebranded as the Thunder. Even eight years later, the sting from the move still lingers in the Pacific Northwest.
“Yeah, that hurt,” Thomas said. “That hurt kids’ childhoods, man, not growing up with a professional basketball team like everyone else had. It’s tough now, and Portland is the closest team to them. I’m glad I was raised on Sonics basketball.”
Bradley said basketball fans in the Seattle/Tacoma area have tried to maintain their allegiance to a team that no longer exists. They still consider themselves Sonics fans and still wear Sonics hats and shirts.
“It was hard when they left,” Bradley said. “I don’t think I really understood it yet. It was kind of like, ‘OK the Sonics are leaving.’ After that first year of them being gone, I think it sunk in for a lot of people. Everybody was like, ‘Damn, man, the Sonics are gone.’ And everybody’s still pissed about it now.”
Celtics forward Jae Crowder returned to the starting lineup after missing eight games with a high ankle sprain.
“I went hard yesterday,” Crowder said Thursday morning. “I still feel like on certain plays I was a step behind, but guys were telling me I look like I’m ready to play. Physically, I just feel like I was a little step behind, but that’s probably just getting the timing and stuff back. It’s been a couple weeks.”
Crowder suffered the injury during the third quarter of the Celtics’ March 11 loss to the Rockets.Crowder said he probably would not play Friday night at Golden State.
He said he preferred to play against the Blazers simply because they do not play at as frenetic of a pace. Celtics coach Brad Stevens said on Thursday night that a final decision had not been made regarding Crowder’s availability against Golden State.
The Warriors, of course, are undefeated at home and on the verge of completing the best regular season in the history of the NBA, so that game will pose an extraordinary challenge for the Celtics with or without Crowder. Regardless, his return comes at a critical time, and it will give Crowder two weeks to regain his rhythm before the playoffs begin.
“Certainly, he’s another guy that makes a lot of effort plays and a guy that makes it easy on everybody because he’s got positional versatility,” Stevens said. “He can swing to the 4, swing to the 3. It opens up opportunities for everybody. Those guys are helpful, no question.”