On a night when Isaiah Thomas tied John Havlicek for the most consecutive games of at least 20 points in Celtics history, Sixers coach Brett Brown gave the Celtics point guard praise worthy of his history-making night.
“They really can score,” Brown began when asked about the Celtics offense. “They really, really can score. The last two times we’ve played them, with 30 seconds left, it was 100-100, and it was 102-100 the other game. We’re there at the end. The good news is I feel like we’re playing good basketball right now. The bad news is they are playing as good as basketball as I’ve seen them play in a while because I feel they are firing on all cylinders with just firepower.”
CSN Philly’s Jessica Camerato tried to ask an ‘apart from Isaiah Thomas’ question, probing Brown’s thoughts on the rest of the Celtics roster, like the red-hot Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk. But Brown couldn’t help himself.
“Isaiah Thomas, what he is doing to the NBA and the volume and the volume of points he scores and what he does in fourth periods and what he does in back-to-back games,” Brown said. “You look at what he’s doing to the league right now, he’s an All-Star for a reason.”
That reason is 29.8 points per game, second only to the 30.8 of Russell Westbrook. He is averaging 10 points a game in the fourth quarter. The Celtics lead the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring at 29 points per game. The Celtics have been closing out close games and Thomas is the numero uno reason. Throw on top of all of that 40 straight games of at least 20 points, and you have a historic performance for a legacy franchise.
“I know you asked, ‘Apart from Isaiah,’ but you can’t help but talk about him and the firepower they have collectively when you talk about how you try to give yourself a chance to win,” Brown said. “You have to find ways to defend them, and they’re really hard to do that.”
Then Brown took it to the next level.
“I mean he’s so unassuming physically. You look at him and it’s not like you’re looking at LeBron or somebody that’s tall and all cut up,” Brown said of the 5-foot-7 guard. “He’s very sort of unassuming when you look at him on a court. And then all of sudden, you start studying him. His ability to control speeds.
“He can go from 80 (MPH) to a 100 back down to 40 back to 90. He really can get you off balance and create separation and that because he can shoot, now lets him dance and get to the rim, take a hit and finish. There’s a toughness in him that you may not think if you just saw him warming or just looked at him. So, his growth in our league and what he’s for this program, you really step back and have tremendous respect for what he’s doing.”
This, naturally, is nothing new to Brad Stevens. He has been coaching Thomas his entire two years in Boston, since the Feb. 19, 2015 deal that sent him to the Celtics from Phoenix.
“He’s just gotten better at what he does well, right? He’s a guy that can find his own shot and get his own shot and he’s become even better at making those and being creative with his finishes,” Stevens said in the latest praise heaped on the diminutive guard’s shoulders before Wednesday’s game. “He’s been really accurate with his jump shot from three, whether it’s off the catch or off the bounce. And he’s doing a great job of reading whatever defense you throw at him. I think last time we played Philly he did a great job of reading when they jumped him and played the blitz. Other teams have switched. Some teams have been back, some teams have played him different ways. He’s just getting better and that comes with experience. He’s got the ball a lot in the fourth quarter, specifically.
“He just does a good job of reading what the defense gives him. I thought the other night, Dallas blitzed him and he made multiple plays that were the right pass to initiate offense to get us where we needed to go. He’s just going to have to read the defense and play the right way.”