Isaiah Thomas scored a season-low seven points Tuesday night. (Brett Davis/USA Today Sports)
ATLANTA — For just the second time during the 2015-16 campaign, Isaiah Thomas failed to reach double-digits, finishing with a season-low seven points during his Celtics’ 110-83, Game 5 loss to the Hawks, Tuesday night at Phillips Arena.
Thomas also clocked in with a minus-33 in his 29 minutes, the worst plus-minus number of any Celtics player during a postseason game since the stat started being charted in 1985. But after the game, Thomas — whose exit from the game came after hurting his left ankle in the fourth quarter — was all about what how the Hawks played him, and how his teammates did, or didn’t, respond.
“That was their game-plan. They put two or three guys on me every time I touched the ball,” Thomas said. “Their game-plan was to let the other guys beat us. It should be a sign of disrespect to my teammates to put two on the ball every time I have it. Other guys have to step up and make plays, that’s what it comes down to. If they try and do it again in Game 6, it comes down to other guys making plays. I’m just going to try and get the ball out as quickly as possible, out of the trap, out of the two or three guys on me. But other guys have to make shots, and other guys have to make plays for us to win.
“It’s tough for me because I feel like I can score on anything. But as a point guard I have to make the right play and I got to trust my teammates. And I know once my teammates do knock down shots, or make the right play out of the double-team, i’s going to open up for me throughout the game. Today it didn’t happen. But we knew they would make adjustments, and now we have to make adjustments and other guys have to step up.”
The Hawks’ strategy was apparent early on, with Thomas not able to freelance through the Atlanta defense as he had done for much of the series. Thomas failed to score a single point in the first half, marking the third time this season that has happened. This time it lead to the Celtics scoring just 39 points, while carrying an eight-point deficit into halftime.
“A team never really did what Atlanta did [Tuesday],” Thomas said. “They really had two or three guys on me the whole time. Face-guarding me. When I got it they showed all five guys. They wasn’t worried about anybody else. Guys have to adjust. Guys have to make plays. And once we make shots, like we do at home, and make plays, like we do at home, they can’t do that.”
And when told that Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer downplayed the Hawks’ adjustment to pay more attention to Thomas, the guard chuckled and said, “He’s lying if he’s playing it down. Obviously, their job today was make others beat us. Take the ball out of my hands. When I came off of pick-and-rolls they kept two guys on me until I passed it. They didn’t do that in Game 3. They did that throughout the game, but not the whole game in Game 4. Not as much. Today was like an emphasis on it.”
Had Thomas ever experienced anything like this? So many defenders worried about just him, without much attention at all spent toward any of his teammates?
“Back in high school,” Thomas said. “They used to do box-and-one’s and stuff. But not in the NBA.”
Did he figure it out? “Yeah, I did,” Thomas quipped. “I just shot more.” If it was only that easy.