BOSTON — Doc Rivers has seen his fair share of great 1-on-1 duels involving the Boston Celtics as both a player and coach.
He had a front row seat to the legendary Larry Bird vs. Dominique Wilkins duel in the 1988 NBA playoffs, during which Rivers’ Atlanta Hawks were eliminated in a Game 7 loss at the old Boston Garden.
Rivers was again on the losing end of another great duel Wednesday night at TD Garden, this time as the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers. While this one definitely won’t be remembered like the Bird-Wilkins duel — which probably is the greatest 1-on-1 showdown of all-time — it still was really fun to watch.
Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas and Clippers point guard Chris Paul, two selections to the 2016 NBA All-Star Game on Sunday, went head-to-head and combined for 71 points. Thomas and the Celtics prevailed 139-134 in overtime to go into the break with 13 wins in their last 17 games.
“He’s great. He makes big shots. He’s tough to guard,” Rivers said of Thomas. “I’ve never seen a little guy, other than Spud Webb, maybe, who makes a living in the paint. Most little guys have been 3-point shooters, which he is. You rarely see one who gets into the paint and makes shots. He does it consistently.”
Thomas had a game-high 36 points, and he was hot down the stretch with 21 of those points in the second half. His 13-foot jumper from the baseline with five seconds remaining in the fourth quarter tied the score at 122 and sent the game into overtime.
“It was good. That’s what two competitors do. Two guys who’re trying to win a game for their team,” Thomas said of his battle with CP3. “He’s one of the best guards in the world, and you always want to play against the best players in the world. As a competitor, you should want that, and I’m all for challenges. I’m all for going against anybody.”
Paul, to his credit, did all he could to secure a victory for the Clippers. He poured in a team-high 35 points on 13 for 21 shooting, in addition to 13 assists, five rebounds and three steals. He missed a couple of important free throws late in the game, though, which probably was a result of him playing a game-high 48 minutes, but Rivers didn’t have a choice with so many L.A. guards battling injuries.
Paul has known about Thomas for quite a while. The scrappy Celtics guard has attended Paul’s summer camp as both a camper and a counselor.
“I’m probably one of Isaiah’s biggest fans,” Paul said. “He came to my camp twice. I’ve known him before he got to the NBA.”
“I got invited to his camp when I was in college, as one of the top college point guards in the country,” Thomas said. “We met from there, and we were working out together. Every summer after that, I would go back to his camp. … He’s just been a good mentor of mine, someone I can talk to about anything. He’s not just a hell of a player, but a hell of a person.”
Thomas has elevated himself into the upper echelon of point guards this season, and that’s no easy task given the historically high number of quality players at the position right now. In fact, only Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook have scored more points per game than Thomas among point guards entering the All-Star break.
Most basketball fans have learned about Thomas’ talent level by now, but those who haven’t will witness it this weekend in Toronto.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Feb 10, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots against Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce (34) in overtime at TD Garden. Celtics defeated the Clippers in overtime 139-134. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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