Isaiah Thomas pleaded with Celtics medical staff to keep playing
CLEVELAND — With about eight minutes left in the third quarter of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals and the Celtics trailing the Cavaliers by 42 points, point guard Isaiah Thomas was in the locker room pleading with the team’s medical staff to let him go back into the game, coach Brad Stevens said Sunday.
“I think the best part about it from all of our standpoints was how inspiring it’s been to have a guy that’s done all this and accomplished all this and is willing to literally go out and leave it all out there,” Stevens said.
Thomas was ruled out at halftime after aggravating a right hip injury, and on Saturday he was ruled out for the season.
“He’s had a great season for our team,” guard Avery Bradley said. “I feel like it’s our job to go out there and make sure that we finish the right way.”
Thomas is still in Boston, and Stevens said he will travel to see hip specialists in the coming days to help determine if he will need surgery on his labral tear. The Celtics said the point guard originally injured his hip during a March 15 game against the Timberwolves, and that he aggravated it several times since then.
“There were times where you could see he was really struggling, but probably nothing like the other night [in Game 2],” Stevens said. “I thought the first half he was really hurting, really didn’t have any bounce, didn’t have any push. And it’s one of those things where being around him for the last couple of years, I mean, he wants to play through any and all circumstances.”
At their shootaround Sunday morning, the Celtics were mostly glum as they recounted the impact Thomas had on the team this season, when he emerged as a second-team All-NBA selection.
“He’s the heart and soul and he gives us so much and he’s given us so much all year and I know for him not to be able to play, it’s because of something that’s not good,” forward Al Horford said. “He gave us everything he had, I know that, and I’m very proud of him and the year that he’s had.”
“He’s a big part of this team,” guard Marcus Smart said. “He’s one of our brothers and he’s down. We understand it, respect everything he’s done, and we thank him for everything. But now it’s time for everybody else to step up.”
Smart started in place of Thomas in Game 3, and Amir Johnson returned to the starting lineup in place of Gerald Green, who started Game 2 in Boston. Entering Sunday night, the Celtics had yet to hold a lead in this series.
“Obviously it changes a little bit how we play, some of the things we call on the offensive end of the floor,” Stevens said. “And then defensively we’ll be a little bit bigger across the board.”
Chance for Rozier
Celtics guard Terry Rozier grew up in nearby Shaker Heights, Ohio, and dreamed about someday taking part in a playoff game in Cleveland, either with the Cavaliers or against them.
“I never really thought it would happen in my second year,” he said. “It’s special, very special, and I’m very grateful to be in this moment. So I just have to make sure I make the best of it and do what I can to prove myself.”
Rozier, who entered Sunday averaging 15.6 minutes per game in these playoffs, understands he is likely to take on a larger role now that Thomas is sidelined.
“This is a great opportunity for me and the team to prove everybody wrong,” he said. “So we’ve just got to come out being aggressive and playing Celtics basketball.”
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue guided his team to a championship last season and it entered Sunday night with a sparkling 10-0 record in these playoffs. Cleveland has a deep, veteran team that has formed a true bond. On Sunday, Lue was asked if it reminded him of any other teams he has played on or coached.
“Boston,” said Lue, who was a Celtics assistant from 2009-13. “When I was there with [Kevin Garnett] and Ray [Allen] and Paul [Pierce] and [Rajon] Rondo and those guys, that was a tight group. They did everything together, dinners and everything. This reminds me a lot of that Boston team.”