SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Isaiah Thomas threw down three quick 3-pointers, showing that his shot is still there.
Removing rust for 12 months was not that easy.
Thomas scored 19 points in his first competitive game in more than a year and helped the USA to a 93-77 win over the Bahamas in a FIBA AmeriCup qualifier on Friday.
“It was my first time playing in a little over a year so I was a little rusty but it felt great to play against really good players and to represent my country too,” said Thomas.
32-year-old Thomas is a two-time NBA All-Star who scored 28.9 points per game for the Boston Celtics in the 2016-17 season. But he suffered a hip injury late this season and has never regained that form with limited options.
He decided to play for the Americans, partly as a showcase in hopes of finding his way back into the NBA, where he last played for Washington last February.
Thomas, like many NBA players, had some trouble adjusting to the ball and the way the international game is run. But he was happy with his exercise and stamina and said he would correct his mistakes on Saturday.
“The world knows that I have what it takes. So it’s just about showing that I’m healthy,” said Thomas. “My skills went nowhere, it was just about getting one hundred percent healthy who I am right now.”
The 5-foot-9 guard put the Americans in the lead to 11-2 with his three straight 3-pointers. However, he also made six turnovers which helped keep the Bahamas in the game much longer than expected, with a particularly difficult stretch in the second quarter when he made two turnovers in a row and then blocked his shot.
US coach Joe Prunty thought Thomas played well.
“Yes, certain sales,” said Prunty. “There were certain things on the defensive, tasks that he had to fight his way through. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t. But that’s part of our defense when it comes to communication. It’s not always about one man . “
“But overall, I was very pleased with the way he moved on the ground. We managed to get mostly on our offensive, carry out our offensive and obviously take some shots.”
James Nunnally also scored 19 points for the Americans. They improved to 5-0 in the qualifier and can stay perfect through three windows by beating Mexico on Saturday.
The US has already secured a spot in the AmeriCup tournament due to be played in 2022 but has brought a strong roster to San Juan that includes eight players who have experience in the regular NBA season. Along with Thomas, the other notable name was seven-time all-star Joe Johnson, who finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.
Still, the US led by just 10 points in the fourth quarter after beating the Bahamas by 40 points in November. The lead was only 83-72 before Thomas layup and 3-pointer to push it to 88-72 and the Americans eventually rolled out from there.
The qualifiers were added to give national teams the opportunity to play home games. All four teams in Group D are playing in a bubble in San Juan this weekend because of the coronavirus.
Brandon Bass finished the game with 12 points and 10 rebounds for the US. Another former NBA player, Treveon Graham, left the game in the third quarter with an apparent leg injury.
Travis Munnings scored 22 points for the Bahamas (1-4).