BOSTON — Stop us if you heard this before: The Celtics were in a whole lot of trouble until Isaiah Thomas bailed them out.
The C’s played a sluggish three quarters Wednesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, letting a 2-7 club without Dirk Nowitzki take a slim lead early in the fourth. Enter Thomas, who flipped a switch to score 22 of of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter and help Boston escape with a 90-83 win at TD Garden.
The 5-foot-9 point guard — who fittingly wears No. 4 — was a one-man wrecking crew in the final frame. His fearless drives to the basket helped him get to line 13 times and make 12 free throws in the 12-minute span. He drilled a clutch 3-pointer with under two minutes remaining, then finished the Mavs off with a beautiful pass to Avery Bradley for the slam.
“I guess I just like that quarter,” Thomas said when asked to explain his fourth-quarter success. “Sometimes guys get a little tired and then the pressure gets a little tougher for them. I guess I like the pressure.”
The statistics certainly bear that out. Thomas now is averaging 9.7 points per game in the fourth quarter this season, second in the NBA behind only Russell Westbrook. In the absence of Al Horford and Jae Crowder, Thomas has been Boston’s best — and essentially only — late-game option.
“He’s got a knack for it,” head coach Brad Stevens said of Thomas’ ability to step up down the stretch. “I guess I’m so used to being around him and so used to watching him operate that nothing surprises me.
“… He got his legs into a couple of those shots late. You could see the lift and the rhythm that he had into a couple of them looked a little bit different. He was unbelievable.”
Let’s hit a few other notes from Celtics-Mavs:
— Avery Bradley continues to pile up rebounds at a remarkable rate. The Celtics guard tallied a team-high 13 boards to go along with 18 points and now has 96 rebounds through 11 games this season. The next-closest Celtic, Amir Johnson, has 50.
That’s not exactly a good sign when your 6-foot-2 guard has 46 more rebounds than anyone else on his team. But Stevens thinks Bradley’s teammates deserve partial credit for boxing out and letting him go get the ball.
“I think that that is exactly what we’re trying to accomplish, because none of our ‘bigs’ have been career double-figure rebounders,” Stevens said. “We’re asking Amir to guard up a spot most of the game, and he’s guarded ‘fours’ mostly. And so for him to get his guy off has got to be enough, and then somebody else has to go get the ball.”
— Rebounding has been a major issue for Boston, but not Wednesday night: The C’s out-rebounded Dallas 53-32, its highest rebound differential in over two years.
— Mark Cuban was in the house Wednesday, but the normally outspoken Mavs owner stayed quiet when asked to comment on the report that Dallas is one of three NBA teams that is refusing to stay in hotels owned by President-elect Donald Trump.
“I’m not gonna talk politics at all,” Cuban replied tersely.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images