Thomas returned to TD Garden on Wednesday night for the first time since he was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers in August as part of the blockbuster trade that brought Kyrie Irving to the Celtics.
It was the lowest point of a whirlwind summer for Thomas, which was compounded by his ongoing recovery from the hip injury that cut short his postseason run with Boston last season.
The injury sidelined him for Cleveland's season opener against his former team back in October. He missed the Cavs' first 36 games before returning to action against Portland on Tuesday night, scoring 17 points in 19 minutes.
For now, his minutes are restricted, and he isn't playing on back-to-back nights. So he returned to action Tuesday knowing that he'd sit against the Celtics.
"I was out seven months. There's no way I was gonna come back against Boston and play 17 minutes," Thomas said. "It's too big of an opportunity to just a play against my former teammates, my former coaches, the city that gave me my biggest opportunity."
Thomas said he felt like he was home when he walked into the arena where he became a two-time All-Star, so much so that he almost went to the Celtics' locker room.
"I love this city. I love this organization. They gave me an opportunity to be who I always wanted to be," Thomas said. "I can't thank them enough. So there's no hard feelings for anybody in this city or anybody in this organization. I'm glad I'm back. Like I always said, it's genuine love. And that's for the rest of my life."
That respect is mutual, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
"First and foremost, I will always value him as a friend and as a person," Stevens said. "Lost amongst all the talk of where people play and everything else is the fact that you did get to compete together. I always appreciated that about him."
Though Thomas asked that there not be any kind of tribute video for him on this trip to the Garden, he did receive an extended standing ovation from the Boston fans when he was shown on the scoreboard monitors between the first and second quarters.
He looked at the camera, pounded his heart three times and waved.
Late in Boston's 102-88 win, Celtics fans began chanting, "We want I.T.!" Afterward, he shared hugs with several players, including Irving.
There will be another opportunity for the Celtics honor him, when Boston hosts the Cavs on Feb. 11. But that's also the night Paul Pierce will have his jersey retired. Thomas said it's up to the Celtics whether they want to do something that night for him.
"That's Pierce's night. The video tribute ain't the whole night. I just wanted my family to be here to see it," Thomas said. "That's what it came down to. I wanted to be able to play. I wanted my family to experience the love and appreciation of this city and this organization are gonna give me on that night.
"I'm not taking nothing from Paul Pierce. He played 15 years here. There's nothing I can take from here. If they choose to do it that night, that would be great. I would be honored."
He said he's even buried the hatchet with Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. Earlier this year, Sports Illustrated quoted Thomas wondering whether he'd ever speak to Ainge again after the trade.
But Thomas said Ainge reached out to him on Tuesday night.
"There's no hard feelings. Only hard feeling is Danny didn't send me no Christmas card this year," Thomas said. "He sent me one the last two years. He could have found my address somehow. Have I forgiven Danny? He texted me last night. So, yeah, we're good."
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