Isaiah Thomas Scoring 53 Points Against the Wizards in the Playoffs Was a Special Sports Moment
The lack of sports during what's supposed to be one of the best times in the sports calendar has really hammered home for me just how much I miss the emotions the truly special moments inspire. Of course, as a member of sports media, I'm reliant on sports for a lot of things, but right now, when we're all supposed to be enjoying the NBA and NHL playoffs, I miss the fan aspect deeply. The moment of realization while watching that you're seeing an exceptionally special moment.
That's what I was thinking about this afternoon when I realized that it's been three years to the day since Isaiah Thomas scored 53 points against the Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. That feat alone is remarkable, but the circumstances around it elevated his performance to all-time considerations on both a basketball and human scale.
Thomas' sister, Chyna, had tragically passed away just before the start of that year's playoffs. May 2 would have been her 23rd birthday, and the Celtics were slated to play the Wizards that day. Nobody would have blamed Thomas for sitting out that night, even if he was the fulcrum of Boston's offense that year. Some things are bigger than basketball. But not only did he play, he scored 53 points.
For certain sports moments, you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing while watching. Even if it feels like a lifetime at this point, 2017 was only three years ago, so the fact that I can recall where I was watching this game isn't terribly remarkable in of itself. But memories blur as they age. Not this one. I still distinctly recall sitting on my couch of the first apartment I ever lived in during my junior year of college, malt liquor in hand, jaw dropping as Thomas crossed up a trash-talking Markieff Morris for the and-1 in overtime that sealed both the win and his final tally of 53 points. I hooted and hollered to many a friend about what I had just watched to little interest.
Thomas' 2016-17 season is perhaps the greatest example in NBA history of catching lightning in a bottle. The Little Guy, as he was affectionally dubbed by Celtics color commentator Tommy Heinsohn, put together a season worthy of MVP consideration by averaging 28 points per game as the smallest player on the court by far most nights. Boston, at that time, was a ragtag bunch of role players and rookies (and Al Horford), all standing with Thomas to earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The whole season felt special. Then Thomas goes out and puts together one of the strongest performances in NBA history through many lenses. I'm willing to bet the vast majority of us couldn't imagine doing anything, really, after such a loss. But he played basketball at the highest level in a high-pressure situation. It's difficult to imagine seeing anything like it ever again, and I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have watched it unfold.