NBA

‘I’m never going to quit’: Now with the Wizards, ex-Celtics star Isaiah Thomas starts again

Isaiah Thomas shoots in front of Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond. The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Discussing his first NBA start in more than 1½ years, Isaiah Thomas tried to play it cool at first — his face straight, his voice barely above a whisper, his words betraying no emotion or real significance whatsoever.

“Whether I start or come off the bench, I know who I am. I know I’m one of the best basketball players in the world,” he said. “So, I mean, that doesn’t affect me. I approach the game the same way.”

And that’s when he paused. A smile spread.

“But, I mean,” Thomas continued, “I am happy to be starting.”

The 5-foot-9 point guard was on the floor at the outset of the Washington Wizards’ 115-99 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night, and he finished with nine points, six assists and two rebounds in just under 25 minutes.

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None of those individual numbers really mattered all that much.

What was important was what being a member of his team’s first five symbolized: Thomas had worked his way back from a series of injuries, most noteworthy a serious hip problem that sidelined him during the playoffs in 2017 and led to surgery in March 2018.

Earlier that month is when he last started, in a game for the Los Angeles Lakers.

“There were dark days. I mean, it’s rehab. And for me to go through that for two years, it was tough. I’m not going to lie to you. And it did break me at times,” Thomas said. “But … it can’t storm forever. The sun has to come out at some point.”

He was a two-time All-Start in Boston, then got traded to Cleveland in the deal that brought Kyrie Irving to the Celtics. There have been plenty of other travels: The Wizards are his seventh pro team in a career that now has stretched into a ninth season, with averages of 18.6 points, 5.1 assists and 36% shooting on 3s.

After signing with Washington as a free agent in July, Thomas broke his left thumb — that’s his shooting hand — during a workout in September and needed an operation.

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He missed the first two regular-season games, then sat behind Ish Smith for the next three, before getting into the lineup Monday.

“Nothing’s permanent. It’s his tonight. It’s probably going to be for a while. … He’s in the NBA for one reason: He is as tough as nails,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said.

“I like his spirit. I like his competitiveness. I like his story,” Brooks said. “He’s fighting back from some tough moments, tough injuries.”

Thomas’ most difficult time came in 2017, when his younger sister died in a car crash.

“I’m never going to quit. No matter what,” he said Monday. “I’ve been through real-life situations that’s bigger than basketball.”

“Really,” he continued, “I probably looked my kids in their eyes and that was probably what kept me going. Because, I mean, it’s been tough the last two years. But I know my end goal. I know I want to be one of the best basketball players to ever play. I know I’ve got a lot left in the tank and I’m only 30 years old.”

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