It’s not every day that you score 52 points, hit nine three-points and come two points shy of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA record for most fourth-quarter points (31).

Isaiah Thomas deserves a different kind of conversation.

Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas deserves a different kind of conversation.

OK, maybe it took the Celtics guard scoring 52 points in his team’s 117-114 win over the Heat Friday night to jump-start the conversation. And scoring a franchise-record 29 points in the fourth quarter — coming two away from Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA mark, set in the Hall of Famer’s 100-point game — certainly should allow for another night in the spotlight.

“It doesn’t seem real,” Thomas said after the performance. “It’s crazy.”

But for 2016, this was the Celtics’ David Ortiz. Thomas was the alpha dog. The guy who kept talks of competing beyond the regular season finale a reality.

Right now, as we sit here, there are three athletes who have established themselves as legitimate superstars during this calendar year. Tom Brady. Mookie Betts. Thomas. (You can make the case for Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Rob Gronkowski, and maybe Brad Marchand, but each feel like they fall short of the others.)

But on virtually every day but the one he nets 52, Thomas is usually on the outskirts of such a conversation. Why?

Maybe it’s because some haven’t got past the fact this was a guy who was the very last pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Or perhaps it is because Danny Ainge only needed journeyman guard Marcus Thornton and a pick in the 2015 draft to get him from the Phoenix two seasons ago.

Yet the real reason we still don’t want to immediately identify Thomas as a no-questions-asked foundation piece is something he brought up after getting doused with ice by his teammates in the Celtics’ locker room.

“I do,” said Thomas when asked if he felt there is a hesitation to lump him in with the league’s superstars. “The only reason say that is because I’m 5-9. That’s why they don’t about me like they do the other guys. But I’m fine with it.”

Once again, it’s easy to bring this up now. It was the first time a Celtic had scored 50 or more points since Paul Pierce netted half a century in a double-overtime loss to Cleveland on Feb. 15, 2006. Only Larry Bird and Kevin McHale scored more points in a single game while wearing a Celtics uniform. And the nine three-pointers tied a club record, with Antoine Walker having managed the total twice.

“It just felt like I was out there by myself, like I was in the guy working on my game,” Thomas said. “I was just throwing up everything and it was going in. It was a special feeling.”

This, however, is bigger than just one night.

Thomas — who is now fifth in the NBA in scoring — has the skill and personality befitting those we hold above the rest. Last postseason, he was the one who called out his teammates after nobody could pry Atlanta’s triple-team away from him. Time and time again, it is the guard who has let the Celtics’ complementary players still win with their complementary skills. And Brad Stevens can be a good coach who wins in the NBA, because even the best coaches in this league need players who can score.

And all of this while paying him just more than $6 million this season and next before he finally is eligible for free agency after the 2017-18 season.

Thomas is keeper. That is one thing the Celtics should feel confident of heading into the new year.

“For me it feels normal,” he said. “When I score and I put the numbers up that I do, I give credit to my teammates and this organization for believing in me. It feels normal. Everything I’ve always done in my whole life I’ve worked that hard for it. It’s never felt like, ‘I’m 5-9.’ When I’m out there I feel like I’m 6-4. It’s just the same as everybody else. Tonight was different. But everything else, it feels somewhat normal.”

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas deserves a different kind of conversation.

OK, maybe it took the Celtics guard scoring 52 points in his team’s 117-114 win over the Heat Friday night to jump-start the conversation. And scoring a franchise-record 29 points in the fourth quarter — coming two away from Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA mark, set in the Hall of Famer’s 100-point game — certainly should allow for another night in the spotlight.

“It doesn’t seem real,” Thomas said after the performance. “It’s crazy.”

But for 2016, this was the Celtics’ David Ortiz. Thomas was the alpha dog. The guy who kept talks of competing beyond the regular season finale a reality.

Right now, as we sit here, there are three athletes who have established themselves as legitimate superstars during this calendar year. Tom Brady. Mookie Betts. Thomas. (You can make the case for Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Rob Gronkowski, and maybe Brad Marchand, but each feel like they fall short of the others.)

But on virtually every day but the one he nets 52, Thomas is usually on the outskirts of such a conversation. Why?

Maybe it’s because some haven’t got past the fact this was a guy who was the very last pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Or perhaps it is because Danny Ainge only needed journeyman guard Marcus Thornton and a pick in the 2015 draft to get him from the Phoenix two seasons ago.

Yet the real reason we still don’t want to immediately identify Thomas as a no-questions-asked foundation piece is something he brought up after getting doused with ice by his teammates in the Celtics’ locker room.

“I do,” said Thomas when asked if he felt there is a hesitation to lump him in with the league’s superstars. “The only reason say that is because I’m 5-9. That’s why they don’t about me like they do the other guys. But I’m fine with it.”

Once again, it’s easy to bring this up now. It was the first time a Celtic had scored 50 or more points since Paul Pierce netted half a century in a double-overtime loss to Cleveland on Feb. 15, 2006. Only Larry Bird and Kevin McHale scored more points in a single game while wearing a Celtics uniform. And the nine three-pointers tied a club record, with Antoine Walker having managed the total twice.

“It just felt like I was out there by myself, like I was in the guy working on my game,” Thomas said. “I was just throwing up everything and it was going in. It was a special feeling.”

This, however, is bigger than just one night.

Thomas — who is now fifth in the NBA in scoring — has the skill and personality befitting those we hold above the rest. Last postseason, he was the one who called out his teammates after nobody could pry Atlanta’s triple-team away from him. Time and time again, it is the guard who has let the Celtics’ complementary players still win with their complementary skills. And Brad Stevens can be a good coach who wins in the NBA, because even the best coaches in this league need players who can score.

And all of this while paying him just more than $6 million this season and next before he finally is eligible for free agency after the 2017-18 season.

Thomas is keeper. That is one thing the Celtics should feel confident of heading into the new year.

“For me it feels normal,” he said. “When I score and I put the numbers up that I do, I give credit to my teammates and this organization for believing in me. It feels normal. Everything I’ve always done in my whole life I’ve worked that hard for it. It’s never felt like, ‘I’m 5-9.’ When I’m out there I feel like I’m 6-4. It’s just the same as everybody else. Tonight was different. But everything else, it feels somewhat normal.”

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

It is the most uncomplicated team in recent memory. When it comes to the Celtics, the reality is simple: they are one player away.

This has nothing to do with the Celtics’ 117-114 win over a bad Miami Heat team, back-to-back games, or not having Avery Bradley for Friday night’s game.

Isaiah Thomas netted a franchise-record nine three-pointers Friday night. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas netted a franchise-record nine three-pointers Friday night. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

It is the most uncomplicated team in recent memory. When it comes to the Celtics, the reality is simple: they are one player away.

This has nothing to do with the Celtics’ 117-114 win over a bad Miami Heat team, back-to-back games, or not having Avery Bradley for Friday night’s game.

What transpired against the Heat without Bradley — who missed his first game with an illness — was a familiar refrain. The Celtics needed scoring, so Isaiah Thomas scored. In this case, the production was in the form of 52 points and franchise-record nine three-pointers.

(For a complete recap, click here.)

Al Horford also offered his complementary output. But as has been the case for most of the last two seasons, the mish-mash of good-but-not great was good enough to beat a team like Miami, but not enough to get over the hump against the conference elite in Cleveland.

Thomas could do whatever he wanted against this collection of Heat, especially in the fourth quarter when he netted 29 points (another franchise record) to help the guard finish the fourth-highest point output for a single game in Celtic history.

But try this strategy against any team with a record better than 10-24? Good luck.

Sure, Bradley and his 17.9 points a game would have helped. But without the guard, and even with Horford, this was a reminder of the pain that will ultimately be waiting in the postseason. The kind of pain that the Celtics became all-too-familiar with last April against the Hawks when Thomas finished off his season bemoaning triple-teams.

So, will this dynamic change before the Celtics really have to be judged against the best of the East?

It’s not like legitimate Top 3 guys can be added without some discomfort. In the case of DeMarcus Cousins (whose game would be a perfect fit), the uneasiness comes with both the player’s demeanor, and the cost to bring him in.

And really to reel in any available player similar to Cousin’s caliber, the Celtics be ready to give up that Brooklyn pick. It is one that is looking better and better every day thanks to both the college prospects who might be available and the Nets’ record. (Brooklyn is 1/2 game out of tying Philly for the NBA’s worst record.)

Perhaps Danny Ainge wants to ride this out. But the problem is if he does there really doesn’t seem to a lot of hope for internal solutions.

Jae Crowder. Marcus Smart. Gerald Green. Jonas Jerebko. Terry Rozier. To think that any of of this group is going to offer the kind of consistent production needed to change the conversation isn’t realistic.

Perhaps the best hope is Jaylen Brown, the rookie who once again showed flashes in his 15 minutes against the Heat. Brown finished with just six points on 3-of-4 shooting from the floor, but with some increased confidence and playing time, he possesses the type of game of that can solve some problems.

Or maybe Brown becomes the kind of player teams will actually prioritize when looking to talk trade with the Celtics.

Isaiah (who, by the way, didn’t have a single assist) needs some help. Until then, the Celtics will have to live on the edge they’ve found themselves the last two nights.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Avery Bradley was not available for the Celtics’ game against the Heat Friday night. He wasn’t even at TD Garden.

Upon first blush, the news would have seemed to be a result of a jammed left thumb suffered on a blocked shot by LeBron James Thursday night. But that was not the case. Bradley’s absence, as explained by Celtics coach Brad Stevens, was due to a illness.

Avery Bradley is missing his first game of the season, Friday night. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Avery Bradley is missing his first game of the season, Friday night. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Avery Bradley was not available for the Celtics’ game against the Heat Friday night. He wasn’t even at TD Garden.

Upon first blush, the news would have seemed to be a result of a jammed left thumb suffered on a blocked shot by LeBron James Thursday night. But that was not the case. Bradley’s absence, as explained by Celtics coach Brad Stevens, was due to a illness.

“Avery’s home sick,” Stevens said prior to the C’s showdown against Miami. “His hand felt a little bit better, but he came down with the latest sickness. He came in, got checked out and we sent him home.”

Bradley had been a key component in the Celtics’ two previous meetings, with the guard scoring 18 and 20 points, respectively in both C’s wins.

Starting in place of Bradley was Marcus Smart.

Bradley is turning in a borderline All-Star season, averaging 17.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in just 28.4 minutes a contest. He has hit double-figures in each of his 33 games.

It will be the first game the Celtics have gone without Bradley this season, having represented the only Celtic who started every game.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

At Thursday’s team shootaround, hours before the Celtics took on the defending NBA champion Cavaliers, Brad Stevens was asked about the C’s using the game as a measuring stick, and he downplayed the significance.

LeBron James drives during Thursday's game in Cleveland. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

LeBron James drives during Thursday’s game in Cleveland. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

At Thursday’s team shootaround, hours before the Celtics took on the defending NBA champion Cavaliers, Brad Stevens was asked about the C’s using the game as a measuring stick, and he downplayed the significance.

“We’ve played these guys,” Stevens said (via MassLive.com). “We know how good they are. They’re the class of the East. Regardless of how we play tonight and regardless of result, these guys are still the champions last year and they are still well ahead of all of us. We’re chasing them. We’ve got to play better over the course of a long, long stretch to start talking about measuring anything against this level, in my opinion.”

Good choice of words.

As has been the case for most of the season, the Celtics were unable to deliver when faced with a chance to make a statement against one of the league’s elite, rallying in the fourth quarter to cut a 20-point deficit to one but ultimately dropping a 124-118 decision in Cleveland.

They’ll take away some positives — the C’s took control in the fourth quarter and had a chance to take the lead with eight seconds remaining but Jae Crowder’s 3-pointer clanged off the back of the rim, and Al Horford’s block of a LeBron James layup attempt in the first half undoubtedly will become a regular clip on the TD Garden video board the rest of the season  — but they continue to show that they are not yet ready to take that next step.

And using the Cavaliers as any kind of measuring stick is not a good idea. As Stevens said, the Cavaliers are a proven commodity. The Celtics have been playing better lately, but they’re nothing more than a tough out right now.

Barring an injury to LeBron James or Kyrie Irving (who sat out the final seconds with a sore hamstring), or Danny Ainge pulling the trigger on a major deal, the Celtics would be fortunate to just get to the conference finals. They haven’t shown they can be a real threat to the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors, let alone the Cavaliers.

Isaiah Thomas has proven himself a legitimate MVP candidate, Avery Bradley continues to play like an All-Star, Al Horford has delivered as expected, and Jae Crowder is a dependable fourth starter, but there is not enough consistency from the rest of the lineup. And the defense — supposedly a hallmark of this team — continues to be an issue. Cleveland shot 51.8 percent and scored 101 points in just three quarters before cooling off in the final 12 minutes.

“I just think we have to play better,” Steven said in his postgame press conference. “Our defense has to be more connected and play better. … Disappointing defensive performance, in my opinion.”

Stevens has sounded frustrated a lot this season, as for the first time in his Boston tenure he is coaching a team that is not living up to expectations. This team had many prognosticators predicting a run at the Cavs. Two months into the season, we’ve yet to see it.

Any way you measure it, the Celtics are coming up short.

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar