I tell everybody I love Sacramento. I always will love Sacramento, but when we play them I'm going to kill Sacramento. - Isaiah Thomas
Heading into the Suns 114-112 double overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings I was pondering over which Isaiah Thomas would be on display. I figured that he'd come into the game with a vendetta, looking to vindicate himself and show the Kings their folly for letting him slip away. Based on this I felt his performance would fall into one of two categories.
1. He would have an inspired performance and absolutely torch his former team.
2. He would put too much pressure on himself or be overexcited, which would result in mental mistakes and missed shots.
I hadn't really considered option three.
Isaiah Thomas was practically invisible. Instead of the Kings getting killed, Thomas himself turned into a ghost.
Considering Isaiah's bravado and the ever conspicuous chip on his shoulder, did anyone really conceive he would only attempt four field goals?
To be fair, Isaiah only joined the team right before the game due to a death in the family (great grandfather), but it still seemed blatantly out of character. If he was that perturbed over his loss, maybe he should have asked to be excused from the game. That's what coach Hornacek basically did anyway, limiting the team's spark plug off the bench to 17 minutes.
Thomas had attempted double digit field goals in each of the team's first five games. The loss to Sacramento was the first time Isaiah attempted four or fewer field goals since February 27, 2013. Thomas had played in exactly 100 games since then.
All things being considered it was absolutely befuddling that Thomas was so passive in the game.
He had plenty to prove.
Isaiah cares about what people say about him and think about him. He was very outspoken about the fact that a determining factor in choosing to play for the Suns was "feeling wanted." That makes plenty of sense considering Thomas has been overlooked and undervalued throughout his basketball career.
Former teammate DeMarcus Cousins even (possibly unintentionally) threw darts at Thomas after his exodus to Phoenix.
"It's been incredible. It's been a smooth transition (between Darren Collison and Thomas)," said Cousins. "The ball is moving a lot better. It's not stuck in one place."
It's not too much of a stretch to construe that DeMarcus is calling Isaiah a ball hog. Isaiah has been even more aggressive with the ball this season. His field goal attempts per 36 minutes are up to from 15.8 to 17.2 and his usage rate has gone from 26.3 to 27.1. The disparity was even greater before Friday night's disappearing act.
So why was Thomas so reticent to impose his will on the game through his normal offensive assertiveness?
Part of the reason may have been his limited minutes. Thomas only played 17:19 during the game. He only played less time in one game out of 72 appearances last season. But were the limited minutes part of the cause of his lack of effectiveness, or was his truncated playing time a byproduct of his nebbish performance?
The oddity of Thomas's reduced role in the game was paralleled by Hornacek's decision to keep Isaiah on the bench for all 10 minutes of both overtimes. The Suns offense began to sputter at the beginning of the fourth quarter with Thomas on the court, but when he entered during the third period the Suns were up 73-70 and when he left the game with 6:04 left they were still ahead 94-90.
He would not reenter despite the fact that the Suns managed a paltry 5-16 shooting between the two overtime periods with four players on the court who logged over 40 minutes. Goran Dragic played 46 minutes and Thomas logged just 17. I'm not sure what it would have hurt to give someone a breather for the first two minutes of the second overtime to see if Isaiah could turn it on. Hindsight is 20/20, but I was confused with the lack of substitutions as I was watching the game.
Sure, Thomas wouldn't have helped the team much with their -18 (60-42) on the boards, but at that point can it really get much worse? The Suns were getting abused there either way.
Instead of killing the Kings, the Suns got bloodied and bullied. They couldn't take advantage of Sacramento's best player fouling out as they frittered away leads in both overtimes. Now they've been outrebounded by 18 in two games in the early going, a dubious feat they only accomplished once in 82 games last season.
Thomas's no show wasn't the only reason for the team's loss, though. Despite no single player having a really bad game, everyone contributed to make enough mental errors at key moments to give away the game.
This loss was definitely a team effort.
Hopefully one the team can grow from, because with obvious team chemistry issues and a rotation in flux there is plenty of room to do so.