BOSTON — The Celtics fell behind by six points to the Washington Wizards about halfway through the third quarter of Monday night’s Game 7 at TD Garden. The Wizards had all of the momentum, Bradley Beal was on his way to a 38-point night, and it looked like the C’s were on their way to a second-round playoff exit.
But after coming back into the game at the 2:28 mark of the third quarter, Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas hit two free throws and a pair of 3-point shots as Boston closed the quarter with an 18-7 run to take an 85-79 lead into the fourth.
Thomas finished with 17 points, six assists, a 3-for-3 mark on 3-point shots and zero turnovers in the second half. His 29 points overall led the Celtics, who kept attacking in the fourth quarter en route to a 115-105 win that earned them a place in the Eastern Conference finals.
Thomas, as he has done all season, played his best when the Celtics needed it most.
“He was terrific,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Thomas’ performance. “And the 12-2 assist-to-turnover ratio, you know, is as powerful as the 29 points. I thought he made a lot of great plays. A lot of those shots that others made in the fourth quarter were off of his passes or started with them putting two guys on Isaiah.
“Man, he is a tough guy. He’s got — he’s dealing with more, more stuff physically, and obviously gone through what he went through at the start of the playoffs, it’s pretty remarkable.”
Thomas dished out a playoff career-high 12 assists in Game 7. He faced constant double teams and trapping from the Wizards, who were determined to make other players beat them. Instead of forcing plays, Thomas looked for the open man, most notably Kelly Olynyk, who scored a playoff career-high 26 points off the bench.
Thomas tallied 27 assists over the last three games, and his playmaking ability proved to be a key factor in the C’s winning two of the last three contests of this seven-game series.
The Celtics need Thomas to be at his best against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals, and that includes scoring around 30 points per game and being a facilitator when the Cavs throw two or three defenders at him.
It’s going to be the toughest challenge of Thomas’ career, but he’s fed off motivation as well as anyone since being the last pick of the 2011 draft. When people doubt him, he usually proves them wrong.
“We know it’s going to be tough. But at this point anything can happen,” Thomas said. “We really believe that. They didn’t give us a chance in this series. They didn’t give us a chance when we were down 2-0 to Chicago. We got the No. 1 seed and they didn’t give us a chance. They don’t ever give us a chance and we just keep going. We don’t care what others say.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images