On nights like last night, it’s easy to run out of superlatives to describe what Isaiah Thomas can do with his relatively tiny body.
In a legendary Game 2 against the Washington Wizards, the Celtics point guard scored the most points in a postseason game since Allen Iverson put up 55 in the 2003 playoffs. That’s the same Iverson that has continuously inspired Thomas with words of encouragement and paved the way for smaller, dynamic guards to prosper. AI has been IT’s hero for a long time, but is he now his pound-for-pound peer?
Just days after the funeral of his sister, Isaiah had spent a day on the dentist chair and quickly found himself in a raucous TD Garden on what would have been Chyna Thomas’s 23rd birthday. The emotional strength and maturity required to even turn up to work in those circumstances is commendable; the desire to come through for his team in the way that he did is frankly inconceivable. He scored 53 points, grabbed 4 assists and shot 54% from the field to take a 2-0 series lead.
Naturally, many doubted whether he would be able to perform under the emotionally exhausting circumstances, but Thomas has built a career on going against the grain. Since being picked up as the 60th pick in the 2011 NBA draft, the 5’9 guard has made it his mission to become the greatest little guy to ever play the game, despite outside doubt about whether he was too small to lead a team to success. It’s a lofty goal, considering the obvious comparison to his iconic 6’0 mentor. However, it may be time to start taking Thomas’s ambition seriously.
For years, Iverson has rightfully been considered the greatest pound-for-pound star in NBA history. Thomas is yet to better his idol, but he can now be uttered in the same breath, on the offensive end. The Answer was a superior personal defender to Thomas and occasionally became a pest to opposing point guards, averaging a career total of 2.2 steals over 14 years in the league.
On the other end of the floor, comparing Thomas with the Philadelphia 76ers legend is no longer ridiculous. Over his career, Iverson averaged 26.7 points and 6.2 assists in 41.1 minutes per game. In six seasons, Thomas has scored 19.1 points and logged 5.2 assists in a mere 30 minutes per game. The 28-year-old initially had to establish himself in the league with the Sacramento Kings and the Phoenix Suns, before establishing himself as a superstar for the Celtics, explaining the difference in time spent on the floor.
Recently scrutinised Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul stands inches above Thomas at 6’0. The 31-year-old has earned a reputation as an elite playmaker, currently averaging 9.9 assists for his career. However, Thomas has averaged more points in less minutes per game than Paul and shot the ball at a similarly efficient rate.
We’re living in a golden generation of NBA point guards and Isaiah Thomas isn’t even currently the best in his position. That being said, he’s defying his physical limitations on a nightly basis and truly cementing his place in the conversation of all-time little guys. With enough heart and a whole lot of hard work, nobody is too small.