Despite Saturday night’s 116-86 loss to the Cavaliers, the Boston Celtics are still in good shape. They’re still up 2-1 on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston is two wins away from an improbable NBA Finals birth, despite the injuries to All-Star guards Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. The team dismantled the Cavaliers in the first two match-ups of the series. They blew Cleveland out in Game 1 by 25, 108-83. They then followed that up with a 107-94 game two victory. The biggest problem Cleveland has faced in this series is lack of depth outside of LeBron James and Kevin Love.
Which leads to the question- would the storyline of this series be different if the team hadn’t traded Isaiah Thomas?
Isaiah Thomas in Cleveland
Sure, the Cavs were struggling when the deal was struck. The team lacked any sort of chemistry or cohesiveness. Often they looked like a bunch of individuals all trying to “get theirs”. Isaiah Thomas was still not fully recovered from the hip injury he sustained the previous season, which noticeably hindered his play during his short tenure with the Cavs.
In 15 games played for Cleveland, Thomas averaged 14.7 points, 4.7 assists, and 2.1 rebounds in 27 minutes per game. These numbers are vastly lower than his incredible 2016-17 campaign with the Celtics, where he averaged over 28 points per game and an All-NBA nod.
— Sports Highlights (@OurSportHistory) May 12, 2018
Despite Isaiah’s slow start to the season, it is possible Cleveland pulled the trigger on the experiment too early. Isaiah finished the 2017 season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, where he started in only one of his 17 games played. In 26 minutes per game as the team’s sixth man, Thomas averaged 15.6 points and 5.6 assists per game. He also started to showed flashes of his old self as the season wound down.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) March 2, 2018
Now a year removed from his hip injury, Isaiah says he is feeling like his old self again.
A Few of Cleveland’s Role Players Still Haven’t Shown Up
Cleveland received Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson in the deal for Isaiah Thomas. The pair of bright young talents came to the Cavs on the expectation that they would bring newfound energy and scoring ability. Through three games against the Celtics, Larry Nance Jr. is averaging 2.6 points. Jordan Clarkson hasn’t fared much better. He has only appeared in games one and three of the series, where he has produced 6.3 points per game.
Given the poor production of the duo, one must wonder if a now fully healthy Isaiah Thomas would have made a big enough impact to change the dynamic of the series. Sure, Isaiah does come with obvious issues on the defensive side of the ball. That being said, the guy is only a year removed from an All-Star season. A season that saw Thomas carry his Celtics all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Cleveland has struggled to score consistently at times during this series, making LeBron do everything for the team. Given Isaiah’s history as an energy guy who despite his 5’9” frame has always managed to score at will, Cleveland could have had a lethal scorer to look to.
There’s no way of knowing what could have been for the Cavaliers had they not been so quick to pull the plug on Isaiah. But based on the performance of the team through three games, one has to wonder if the team’s front office is thinking the same thing right now
The Celtics and Cavaliers play Game 4 of the series Monday evening at 8:30 PM on ESPN. Boston leads the best of seven series 2-1.