Ejection aside, Isaiah Thomas gave the Boston Celtics pretty much exactly what they were hoping for Sunday night.
The 5-foot-9 point guard, acquired from the Phoenix Suns at the NBA trade deadline, came to Boston with the reputation as a scoring point guard who could get to the bucket and draw fouls — all areas of need for the Celtics. He checked off all three of those boxes in his first game in green.
Thomas racked up 21 points in 25 minutes during a 118-111 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers before a controversial double-technical prematurely ended his night with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
As he said he would, head coach Brad Stevens experimented with Thomas in multiple lineup combinations, first using him off the ball with Evan Turner running point and later making him the primary ball-handler in a three-guard lineup alongside Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley.
The newcomer acquitted himself well in both situations, bringing the Celtics an instant and prolonged spark off the bench, and almost certainly would have been on the court down the stretch and in overtime had referee Tony Brothers not sent him to an early shower. Thomas, likely knowing this, addressed his new teammates in the locker room after the loss.
Seeing Thomas play, it’s obvious why Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been enamored with his game for so long. He’s a point guard who can score, and do so in a variety of ways — Thomas was 3-for-6 on 2-pointers Sunday, 3-for-7 from three and 6-for-7 from the foul line. Before Thomas’ acquisition, four of Boston’s top five scorers were big men, and Bradley was the only backcourt player averaging in double figures, at 13.8 points per game.
And then there’s Thomas’ impact at the charity stripe. The Celtics have been one of the worst teams in the NBA at drawing fouls this season (as of Monday, they ranked 27th), and doing so is a big part of the 26-year-old’s game. His 4.6 free throw attempts per game, ranked 32nd in the NBA, might not appear all that impressive at first glance, until one sees the Celtics’ next-highest-ranked player in that area is Brandon Bass, whose 2.6 attempts per game has him all the way down at 94th.
There’s still the question of how best to utilize Thomas in this Celtics rotation, particularly when factoring in the development of Smart, who will remain the starter at point guard for the time being. But if his debut was any indication, the new guy will be changing things for the better.
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@NBA