Every player has a moment in their career that sticks with them forever. It may not be the most important game of their career, but for some reason, there is always that one you can’t get out of your head. For Isiah Thomas, the rivalry with the Boston Celtics obviously carried extra weight. It was Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals and the Pistons were seconds away from winning that game. What happened next will stick with Isiah forever.
This is what he said about the game:
“The Boston moment, that was a heartbreaking moment. What was heartbreaking about that moment is, before that moment, before I threw the ball away, I had made the game-winning shot.”
“We go to the time-out, we know Bird is gonna get it either on the left side or the right side. We got the play figured out, we send him left, about five of us come over there to try and block the shot.”
“Ball goes out of bounds, and…..I’ll never forget it, everything starts to go in slow motion. Jess Kersey (the referee) is there and we froze, we celebrating; and Jess Kersey starts the count. ‘Cause he’s standing there and he has the one-count. I run over, we look at the bench, no time-out, nothing, so I run over and I grab the ball, and this is probably one of the most incredible plays that have ever happened against me and that probably I ever witnessed. Athletic standpoint, two people being in sync and Bird just playing every second. That’s what the Celtics taught us, to play every second. Not to play a 47 and a half minutes, but to play a full 48.”
“So I grab the ball from the referee, Laimbeer’s a good foul shooter, I’d never taken the ball out, that was not my thing. Bird sneaks in, I didn’t even see him. But the thing I remember the most is that Joker (Bird) caught the ball and in my mind, I’m like ‘Ok he going out of bounds’ and that dude did this, like a ballerina. And if you go back and watch the play, that dude is on his toes, the baseline is right up under his toe, and in my mind, he must’ve stood there for five seconds, everything was going slow motion in my mind. Then DJ out of nowhere, they are so in tune, so in sync, Bird hits him, he catches the ball, lays it up.”
The Pistons didn’t manage to do anything in the second left on the clock, the Celtics won the game and later the series 4 – 3. Thomas had bigger games in his career but this one marked him. A sign of a true athlete (would’ve said Olympian, but MJ made sure that didn’t happen), Thomas continued to praise the Celtics and said they were teachers from which he learned a lot from.