The Atlanta Hawks seemingly entered Game 5 with one goal in mind: Don’t let Isaiah Thomas beat us. They accomplished that goal and then some.
After scoring a total of 70 points in back-to-back home wins of the Boston Celtics’ first-round NBA playoff series, Thomas was limited to a season-low seven points Tuesday in a lopsided 27-point loss. He tallied more fouls (four) than made baskets (three) before leaving in the fourth quarter with a sprained left ankle.
Thomas was the center of the Hawks’ attention all night, regularly drawing double-teams and facing a wall of Atlanta defenders every time he drove to the rim. His first basket didn’t come until nearly four minutes into the second half.
The Hawks’ strategy clearly flustered Thomas, who channeled his frustrations into a direct challenge to his teammates after the game.
“It should be a sign of disrespect to my teammates for them to put two on the ball every time I have it,” Thomas said in an interview aired on CSN New England. “Other guys have to step up and make plays. That’s what it comes down to. If they try to do it again in Game 6, it comes down to other guys making plays.
“I’m going to just try to get the ball out as quickly as possible out of the trap, out of the two or three guys they have on me, but the other guys have to make shots. The other guys have to make plays for us to win.”
Thomas was one of the Celtics’ worst offensive players Tuesday night, posting a team-worst plus-minus rating of minus-33 and going just 3 for 12 from the field. But his teammates weren’t much better, as Boston just shot 38 percent from the field and 24 percent from 3-point range.
One more performance like that will send the Celtics home packing, and Thomas seemed intent on lighting a fire under his teammates to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“(The Hawks) are making other guys make the play,” Thomas said. “Most of the season, I’ve been the guy to make the play, so it’s probably tough for some guys in that position. But we’ve got to figure it out, and that guy has to make the play, whether he shoots it or makes a 3-on-2 on the backside.”
Thomas’ comments could be seen as harsh given the way he played Tuesday, but he has a point. While he was the leading scorer in both Games 3 and 4, it was performances like Jonas Jerebko’s back-to-back double-doubles and Marcus Smart’s 20-point Game 4 outburst that helped put the Celtics over the top. If the C’s want to avoid an early vacation, they’ll need contributions from their whole roster, especially if Atlanta keeps throwing multiple defenders at Thomas.
“We knew (Atlanta) would make adjustments,” Thomas added. “Now, we have to make adjustments, and other guys have to step up.”
Thumbnail photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Images
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