ATLANTA -- Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas considers himself a superstitious man. At least twice in recent games he's switched his shoes at halftime while suggesting his sneakers contributed to his low-scoring output. Asked about his footwear swap after Boston ended the Golden State Warriors' 54-game home winning streak earlier this month, Thomas declared, "Them shoes had no buckets in them."
The key for the Celtics getting back into their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks might be as simple as changing their jerseys.
Call it the Curse of the Black Trim. During the 2005-06 season, the Celtics introduced an alternate road jersey that featured the typical green jersey with black trim and black numbers with "Boston" emblazoned on the front. The team has worn them eight times in the playoffs since their introduction and have lost every time, including Saturday's Game 1 against the Hawks.
Informed of Boston's struggles with those jerseys, Thomas said he already had green-lighted a swap to the traditional green jerseys with white trim that features "Celtics" on the front. The Celtics brought both shirts to Atlanta for the start of the series.
"We're changing to the other ones next game," Thomas said. "I already told [team travel and equipment manager John Connor] and [basketball facilities manager] Andy [Mannix] that. So you don’t even gotta worry about that."
Boston's bad luck in the black-trimmed jerseys is uncanny when you consider the overwhelming success of the Big Three era. Since the 2008 playoffs, Boston owns a 55-48 record (0.534 winning percentage) while winning one title and coming within minutes of another. Take away the five straight losses the past two seasons and that record is even glitzier.
Just not when the Celtics wear their road alternates.
Boston wore the black-trimmed jerseys four times during its 2008 title run, losing Games 3 and 6 of a seven-game first-round series with the Hawks, then dropping Games 4 and 6 in a seven-game conference semifinal series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even though the white-trimmed jerseys were 0-2 through the first two rounds, the team abandoned the black-trimmed shirts the rest of the way and went 3-3 on the road in series against the Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers while capturing Banner 17.
In 2009, the Celtics didn't utilize the black-trimmed jerseys during a seven-game, opening-round series against the Chicago Bulls, but dusted them off for Game 3 of a conference semifinal series against the Orlando Magic. Boston lost that game and ditched the black-trimmed jerseys for Game 4, a win that evened the series. Boston eventually lost in seven games.
The Celtics, who have never worn anything but their home whites at TD Garden during the postseason, completely abandoned the black-trimmed road jerseys during the 2010 and 2011 playoffs, a span of 33 total games. After winning its first two series in the 2012 postseason, Boston broke out the road alternates for the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat. They got hammered in Game 1, losing by 14, then dropped a heartbreaker in overtime in Game 2. Boston won the next three games of the series but lost in seven.
That would be the last we saw of the black-trimmed jerseys, which went unused during Boston's brief 2013 and 2015 playoff stints (10 total games). But there they were hanging in the stalls before Game 1 on Saturday at Philips Arena, and some Celtics fans immediately felt uneasy.
Boston utilized the black-trimmed jerseys more than its traditional road jerseys during the 2015-16 regular season. As Celtics fan Josh Lawrence (@JoshLawrence23) tracked this season, Boston's record in traditional uniforms was far better than their alternates. Boston went 26-10 wearing classic whites and 9-7 in white-trimmed road jerseys (35-17 overall, .673 winning percentage). Boston posted a 9-11 mark in the black-trimmed alternates, 3-4 in its gray Parquet Pride sleeved jerseys that debuted two seasons ago, and 1-2 in its gold-trimmed St. Paddy's Day alternates (13-17 overall, .433 winning percentage).
Are Boston's struggles in the black-trimmed jerseys merely happenstance? Almost certainly. But sports is filled with irrational superstitions. Heck, even Celtics coach Brad Stevens isn't immune to them.
Back in 2011, Stevens had a mishap with a contact lens that forced him to depart the sideline of Butler University's regular-season finale. He started wearing glasses in the aftermath and couldn't switch back out of fear of jinxing his team during its run to its second consecutive national title game.
Thomas is OK with irrationally overreacting to the idea that on-court performance might be impacted by that which is cosmetic.
"If there’s no points in the shoes, I’m quick to change them," Thomas said. "When it comes to little things like that, or sometimes I wear two rubber bands and if I don’t have a good game I won’t ever do that again. I try to keep it simple. But it does happen sometimes."