Isaiah Thomas probably won’t be cracking the Mount Rushmore of the Boston Celtics anytime soon, but he’s still playing some of the best basketball any Celtic from any season has played.
With a certain New England-based team preparing for yet another Super Bowl, Thomas and the Celtics are flying under the radar at the moment, which is a bit of a shame, especially given how well the All-Star guard is playing.
Thomas scored 41 points Monday in the Celtics’ 113-109 win over the lowly Detroit Pistons, and Boston needed every single one of those points. The Pistons outrebounded the Celtics 51-44 and dominated the game in the paint, but the C’s leaned on their diminutive point guard to score the basketball when they needed it most.
Detroit actually outscored Boston 39-34 in the fourth quarter, but 24 of the home team’s 34 points came from Thomas, who made 6 of 9 shots, including going 3-of-6 from behind the 3-point line. He made all nine free throws he attempted, added an assist for good measure and finished with 40 or more points for the fourth time this season.
Monday’s game marked the Celtics’ final January contest, and Thomas finished the month averaging 32.9 points over 14 games. As ESPN Stats and Info points out, that’s the fourth-highest point-per-game total in a single month in Celtics history, trailing only two guys you might have heard of: Paul Pierce and Larry Bird.
Oh, and that obviously doesn’t count Thomas’ season-high 52 points on Dec. 31.
Since returning from an injury in mid-December, the Celtics guard has bordered on unstoppable. Thomas is averaging 32.5 points per game over that 23-game stretch, shooting better than 50 percent from the field and cashing in on 94 percent of his free-throw attempts. He has 34 points or more in 11 of those games, which includes three 40-point games and the 52-point effort.
More importantly, the Celtics are 17-6 in that stretch after losing three of four without Thomas. That’s in large part due to Thomas’ heroics. Not only does he lead the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring, he also ranks second behind Russell Westbrook in “clutch time” scoring, defined as during the fourth quarter or overtime, with less than five minutes to play and neither team ahead by five or more points.
Thomas’ offensive showing is even more impressive when you consider the Celtics have needed it pretty much every night. Boston has been without Avery Bradley — one of the best defenders in the NBA — since Jan. 7. The Celtics are giving up an absurd 110 points per game since Bradley went down with the Achilles injury and still have managed to win eight of their 12 games since Jan. 7.
Bradley is hopeful he’ll be able to return Wednesday, which would finally give Boston a full, healthy roster again. Even despite the injuries — they also lost Al Horford for a stretch earlier this season — the Celtics have climbed into second place in the Eastern Conference, just 2 1/2 games behind the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers as pf Tuesday.
They have Thomas to thank for that.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images