Walking Bucket: Isaiah Thomas

Basketball—at its core—is a simple game.

You can analyze it in a million different ways, but at the end of the day, if you want to stand atop the NBA’s best offensively, the ball has to go in the bucket.

This week, I wanted to show my appreciation for one of my favorite players to watch, a player who is the personification of the term Walking Bucket.

Isaiah Thomas has been scoring at a high level for as long as I can remember, I was first introduced to his game when I watched his Washington Huskies in the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament. (Now the Pac-12)

Thomas’ moment of the tournament occurred in the championship game versus the Arizona Wildcats.

In overtime, tied 75-75, I watched as Thomas—who by the way, had 28 points on 10 of 16 shooting—slowly walked the ball up the floor, shook his opponent with a right-to-left cross that he turned into a stepback fadeaway jumper that sailed through the basket as time expired.

“SHAKE, CROSSOVER, STEPBAAAACK!!!!”- Gus Johnson

That shot is the type of moment all players and fans live for.

Pure magic.

The level of execution displayed on that play developed into a nightly experience in the NBA, and during the 2016-2017 season with the Boston Celtics, Thomas took his talents to a new level.

I decided to highlight the ’16-’17 season because even though I.T has shown elite scoring his whole career, this year, he was seemingly unstoppable.

In the 2016-2017 season, Thomas averaged 28.9 points per game (3rd in NBA) on 46.3 percent shooting from the field, 37.9 percent from three, and 90.9 percent from the foul line.

Thomas willed the Celtics to the 1-Seed in the Eastern Conference (53-29 record) amid a season that saw him record his 2nd consecutive All-Star appearance and a place on the All-NBA 2nd team.

It was awesome to see how high he raised his game, but it was even more impressive once you understand the obstacles that he overcame that year. He also played so well in clutch moments he earned the nickname “The King in the 4th”.

Thomas played through grief, a hip injury, and losing his front tooth in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Even while dealing with all of that, he still rose to the occasion. Watching his 53-point game in honor of his late sister’s birthday is forever one of my favorite basketball memories—despite it coming at the expense of a win for my Wizards.

I could keep talking about the play of Isaiah Thomas, but the best way to understand how special the ’16-’17 season was, is to witness some of it for yourself.

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Flashback Friday: The St. Louis Hawks

The Hawks hold one NBA Championship -won in 1958- and while we associate the Hawks with their current location in Atlanta, Georgia, their time as the crown jewel of professional basketball occurred in America’s gateway to the west, St. Louis, Missouri.

The Hawks’ time in “The Lou” lasted from 1955 to 1968, and in that time frame, they were home to several legends of the game and one of the most questionable trades in NBA history.

The team flourished on the court, but in a fashion that would become familiar to pro sports fans in the area, the Hawks would eventually succumb to poor attendance and relocate to Atlanta.

The First MVP: Bob Petit

The most successful player to take the court for the St. Louis Hawks is easily Hall of Famer Bob Petit.

Bob Petit is one of the pioneers of the NBA, and during his time in the league, averaged an impressive 26.4 points and 16.2 rebounds per game.

Petit was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player twice, once in 1956 and again in 1959. His MVP award in 1956 was the first time the league named an MVP, forever linking St. Louis to one of the top accomplishments basketball players aspire to attain.

Bob Pettit Hawks Legend - Detroitsportsfrenzy.com in 2020 (With images) | Bob  pettit
A battle between two Hall of Famers, Bill Russell and Bob Petit

Bill Russell Trade

In the 1956 NBA Draft, the Hawks held the 2nd overall pick. With the 2nd pick in the draft, the Hawks selected the University of San Francisco standout and immortal basketball legend Bill Russell. However, they traded their selection to the Boston Celtics for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan.

Short term, the trade worked for the Hawks, The acquisition of two Hall of Fame level talents for one player, and THEN using both players to win a championship against the team you traded with, in most cases is an undisputed win.

However, long term, the Hawks lost out on having a player who would go on to change the game of basketball forever. Bill Russell’s legacy with 11 NBA Championships in a Celtics uniform (3 against the STL Hawks) is untouchable for players in the modern game, and his successes in “Beantown” were the building blocks of the expectation of greatness for Celtics franchise.

The magnitude of the mark Bill Russell left on the game leaves us wondering, what would his legacy look like if he played in St. Louis? Would the team still be there today if the trade never happened?

Unfortunately, we’ll never know, but we can acknowledge the Hawks’ success as they reached the pinnacle of the NBA in 1958.

1958 Champs

The 1958 St. Louis Hawks won the Western Division with a record of 41-31. In the playoffs, they beat the Detroit Pistons in 5 games and then would go on to beat the Celtics in 6, capturing the only NBA championship in Hawks history.

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Note: Bill Russell was hobbled with an ankle injury for most of the series.

Overall, the Hawks’ time in St. Louis bred basketball success, and due to the legacy of players such as Bob Petit, it was also impactful in shaping what the league would eventually become in the future.

Hopefully this post left you with a few small tidbits of knowledge and hey, who knows, one day some of this might show up on a trivia question and you never would’ve known if you didn’t check out District of Buckets.