Isaiah Thomas took matters into his own hands Wednesday night. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)
Entering the fourth quarter, Isaiah Thomas was having a rough night, finagling just eight points to that point, going 3-for-13 from the field and 1-for-3 from the foul line.
What was worse, however, was the inability for multiple players to step up. Avery Bradley did, making his presence known with an 18 point, 13 rebound double-double. But otherwise, there was not much for the Celtics to hang their hat on.
“I was afraid that we were going to have to really gut this one out,” coach Brad Stevens said. “We definitely stagnated quite a bit.”
Thomas ultimately went off in the final frame, dropping 22 points while going 4-for-5 from the field and 12-for-13 from the foul line
Kelly Olynyk was the only other player in double figures, netting 10 points. Otherwise, offensive production was subpar. Marcus Smart was 1-for-6 from the field, off the bench Gerald Green was 1-for-4 with, while most other while most everyone else off the bench was 2-for-3 or 2-for-4.
It has all been part of the process of learning to play without Al Horford and Jae Crowder, two player who conceivably will help pick up the slack when Thomas isn’t playing well once they return healthy. But as the team figures out how to step up in the meantime, Thomas indicated he’s going to keep rising to the pressure.
“I guess I just like that quarter. Sometimes guys get a little tired and the pressure gets a little tougher for them, I guess I just like the pressure,” Thomas said.
And while the numbers may indicate it was something of a one-man show, Thomas will be the first to say it wasn’t. He found vast success off the screen, and his teammates were integral in clearing the lane for the 5-foot-9 guard. This was especially true once Mavs big man Andrew Bogut fouled out.
To get the confidence and form back, however, it started with his first few fourth-quarter free throws.
“The first three quarters I wasn’t playing too well, and for whatever reason I wasn’t myself,” Thomas said. “I had seen the ball go in with a few free throws in the fourth quarter, and then I just felt better about myself. My teammates set up screens, my coach put me in position and I just took advantage of it.”
Since coming to the Celtics, late surges have been Thomas’ calling card, bailing the C’s out of multiple jams. For players like Smart who have seen it happen in front of him during Thomas’ tenure in green, it has never gotten less impressive — even when Smart is trying to do his job on the court.
“You can’t sit back and watch, you’ve got to be ready. Because of his size sometimes he does get in there and he gets clobbered by those bigs and needs a way out to refresh himself,” Smart said. “You can’t just sit back and watch, but you do find yourself going ‘wow’ it’s amazing the things that he can do.”
Off to a 6-5 start, the Celtics have been in a bit of a rut to start the season. With ugly losses to teams like the Nuggets, Wizards and Pelicans, there has been a bit of soul-searching going on as the C’s look to find their identity.
It got to the point in a practice after the Wizards game on Nov. 9 where the Celtics were candid with themselves about the way they were playing, holding a players meeting to try and sort things out.
“It was just something, no coaches, just us,” Smart said. “We just had to look ourselves in the mirror and come to the conclusion that were the ones out there playing, we’ve got to get it together.”
Added Bradley, “We need to hold each other accountable, we weren’t playing to our ability. We’ve got some guys who are, two or three guys playing hard on the defensive end, but the other three weren’t and we needed everyone plying hard consistently as a team.”
The Celtics will get a true test on Friday, squaring off against a 9-2 Warriors team that the Celtics have always shown good fight against. And whatever Thomas is called upon to do Friday and beyond, he’s ready to answer.
“I work too hard not to take advantage of the opportunity that I’m given, so I’m ready for whatever Brad and this team and this organization throws at me, and I’ve always wanted to be in this position,” Thomas said.