Paul Pierce and LeBron James dueling in 2008. All of Kobe Bryant’s top game-deciding moments (though Thomas was careful not to pinpoint a certain title-clinching performance against the Celtics in 2010). Allen Iverson and Vince Carter jousting in 2001.
Now, Thomas has an opportunity to carve out his own place in Game 7 lore.
In a season in which Thomas' star has risen to new heights and in a postseason in which he has faced unimaginable grief, Thomas will play his first career Game 7 on Monday, when the Celtics host the Washington Wizards at TD Garden. A ticket to the Eastern Conference finals hangs in the balance.
With the same confidence that delivered him to this point, Thomas deemed himself ready for the moment when he was asked about battling big-game nerves.
"Man, I don’t believe in pressure,” he said. "I work too hard to be scared of any type of pressure.”
From the moment his last-second heave clanged off the glass at the end of Friday’s Game 6, Thomas has been salivating at the opportunity that Game 7 affords. At his postgame news conference that night, Thomas noted, “[Game 7 is] where all the great players make their name. ... That’s where legends are born.”
Thomas will have had nearly 72 hours to think about all the ways Game 6 slipped away. The Celtics were up by five points, with the ball, with 75 seconds to play when Thomas turned it over after the Wizards trapped him near half court. After a Bradley Beal 3-pointer, Thomas was blocked by John Wall on a 27-foot pullup, and at the other end, Thomas fouled Wall, which allowed the Wizards to tie the game.
Thomas, utterly brilliant before that sequence while looking much the part of a player who earned the "King In the Fourth” moniker this season, has owned his miscues. And he is eager for a chance to atone for them. Game 7 provides a heckuva stage.
Celtics legend Paul Pierce reached out to Thomas after Game 4 of this series, noting how hard it is to win in the playoffs, after the Celtics dropped consecutive games in Washington and the Wizards evened the series at two games apiece. Thomas, increasingly smothered by Washington's defense, responded with a brilliant Game 5 in which he created opportunities for his teammates and Boston tore the game open early en route to a lopsided win.
Home-court advantage makes Boston the favorite in Game 7, especially considering that the home team has won all 10 meetings between these teams this season. Thomas knows Game 7 will still require his best effort, especially considering the momentum the Wizards carried to Boston after Wall's game winner in Game 6.
But Thomas has been waiting for this opportunity.
"I definitely, as a little boy, dreamed of being in a Game 7 -- or winning a Game 7,” he said. "Hopefully, we can do that. It would be so good for this city and so good for this team to win [Monday] night."
Like Thomas, Celtics coach Brad Stevens seemed downright giddy about a winner-take-all Game 7, the first of his NBA coaching career.
"These are the moments that you live for. This is what guys have always dreamed about," Stevens said. "That's what they enjoy. It should be a bunch of fun."
Added Avery Bradley: "I think Isaiah said it last game: This is where legends are made. There’s not a better opportunity, and it's a blessing to be in a situation like this to play in Game 7. These are situations you pray to be in at the beginning of the year, and we’re right there, so we’ll see what we can do."
While Stevens stressed that his team must play well to win, his players acknowledged the value of home court in a game such as this.
Celtics big man Al Horford knows full well what it's like to play a Game 7 in Boston, but he's glad to be on the opposite side this time, after his Hawks got steamrollered here while pushing Boston to seven games in the opening round of the 2008 playoffs.
Asked what he remembers from that night, Horford said, "[The Hawks] getting beat down. It was a beatdown from the beginning. We did a lot to push it to seven games against that team. I don’t think [the media] or anybody gave us any chance to even win a game or two. I think our group, what hit us was something different because the energy in the Garden was unbelievable. I just felt like it kept getting poured on us. And they just stayed at it, and they beat us down."
It could be the start of quite a week in Boston. Regardless of Monday's outcome, the Celtics will enter Tuesday's draft lottery with the best odds of securing the No. 1 overall pick, thanks to a pick swap with the Brooklyn Nets. Wednesday could be the start of the Eastern Conference finals.
Like Thomas, Bradley gushed with confidence on Sunday. He praised the progress of the Celtics this season but believes Boston is capable of more than just winning Monday's Game 7. Asked if Boston could be deemed ahead of schedule by simply making the conference finals, Bradley refused to put a ceiling on what the Celtics are capable of this season.
"The sky is the limit. Every team should think that," he said. "You should never think that you over-accomplished. I feel like every team feels like they should be wherever they end up at or better. Teams that fall short, you should always reach for the top, and that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve always believed we had a chance to be first place [in the East], that we’d have a chance to be where we are now. I feel like we have a chance to -- we believe that we should be playing against Cleveland, beat Cleveland and go to the championship."