Tuning back in for the Celtics (and Isaiah Thomas)

Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart on the court for the Boston Celtics, 2017.

Thomas and Smart, back in the day (a.k.a., three seasons ago). Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons

I wonder what my 12-year-old self would think: endless channels, a nice TV in the living room with all the sports I could reasonably want available, and yet I’m opting for a responsible bedtime over watching overtime more often than not. I suppose I’d just have to tell him that 37 is fine, but it comes with its own set of challenges. Nice TV, though.

But one thing helping to break out of this funk lately is the Boston Celtics. A 7-1 start to the season, looking to make it 8-1, and matching up with Isaiah Thomas now leading the Washington Wizards certainly seems worth plopping myself down on the couch to take in all four quarters in mostly rapt attention.

The timing was excellent. It was a collision of two legitimately enjoyable eras of basketball: Thomas’ gang of overachievers and the current group, led (in marketing at least, and likely much more) by Kemba Walker but much closer in spirit to the united squad that upended so much of the superstar-based conversation that bogs down so much in the NBA. While the chronic weirdness and mystery that surrounds all things Kyrie Irving was exhausting, the biggest disappointment in last season was Irving’s indecision plunging the Celtics into the kind of drama that follows, say, LeBron James anytime he’s within three years of a new contract. That brand of is-he-staying-or-leaving nonsense overshadows the actual games, sinks teams and makes the game being played a drag.

That’s out the window, at least for this year, and in its place is the kind of quick-yet-disciplined basketball that has made most of the Brad Stevens era so much fun. And historically, I don’t even need quite that much to tune in. I can get behind plenty when it comes to following a team for a season. Before Thomas and the hastened reclamation of the Celtics, I’d convinced myself that first-round picks Kelly Olynyk and, later, Marcus Smart would be the building blocks to future success, and all the better to get in on the ground floor and watch these guys.

I was right about one of those folks, at least. Smart turned into the kind of player who would get into number-retirement territory if this team ever wins a championship and he has a steady hand in it. And he was all over it on this evening.

Right, so the game itself was everything a fan could ask for on a Wednesday night with no other plans. Thomas got a warm ovation from the Boston fans who will not forget how much he meant for the three years he called the Garden home. Both defenses delightfully decided to take the evening off, resulting in three Celtics topping 20 points (Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown).

Boston scored exactly 34 points in each of the first three quarters before upping that to 38 in the final frame to put away the Wizards, who were not going away quietly. Thomas held his own there with 18 points and 7 assists, but it was Bradley Beal hitting everything he could, shooting 67 percent from the three-point line and draining 44 points. Happily, the Celtics were able to answer every step. In addition to the three 20-point dudes, Carsen Edwards stepped off the bench wearing Thomas’ old no. 4 to score 18 points (including going 4-for-5 from 3-point range) and Smart, again, did a little of everything — 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 18 points filling in for an injured Gordon Hayward in the starting five. The ball was flying everywhere, that extra pass was always made, even Brad Wanamaker chipped in 10 points.

The point was, it was basketball. Basketball, with the addition of a little history and a little gratitude for seasons past, and a nice window into what could be on the horizon. With most of the NBA’s big guns fighting it out in the West, the East is once again ripe for a surprise contender. One as fun as this to watch could, theoretically, give Toronto or Philadelphia or Milwaukee a real fight in a real series. It’s only November, but …

But, whatever. These are just the ramblings of someone who enjoyed what he saw on the court and off it, on one night, and who’s looking forward to what they’ll bring on Friday when they visit Golden State. It doesn’t have to mean anything, but it feels like it should mean something when it’s this much fun to watch. And it seems important to make the time to keep watching.

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