- On what would have been his sister's 23rd birthday, Isaiah Thomas scored 53 points to lead the Celtics past the Wizards in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
There are actual reasons why the Washington Wizards lost Game 2 on Tuesday. Their offense in clutch time relied on too much one-on-one basketball. The starting lineup looked gassed toward the end of the game after carrying a heavy burden while playing significant minutes. Boston’s depth allowed them to tinker with different lineups throughout the game. Those are just a few reasons, and none of them or any others are worth talking about right now. Did you see what Isaiah Thomas just did?
53 points. Let’s put aside that Thomas is playing just days removed from burying his younger sister. We are watching a (listed at) 5’9” guard routinely embarrass opposing defenses, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Thomas entered these playoffs looking to shake the narrative that small guards couldn’t lead their team to success. He is not only shattering that conception, he’s currently doing so while facing the player who is supposed to be the actual superstar point guard in the East. (We may have something to do with that.)
Before I completely overreact, let’s get a couple things out of the way. A few different bounces of the ball, and John Wall is the story. Wall was great for three-and-a-half quarters, until he fell in love with his jump shot and Washington’s offense stagnated late. Bradley Beal was largely a no-show, and while Markieff Morris played valiantly on his sprained ankle, his impact was limited by foul trouble. This is a tight series that is still capable of going the distance, especially because neither team seems capable of guarding the other’s best lineup.
But Isaiah. Damn. He was firing on all cylinders in the fourth. He competed defensively. He ran Wall through screens and drained open threes. He slithered into the paint and uncorked soft layups while bouncing off of bigs. And he abused Washington’s big men whenever they dared switching on pick and rolls. There are seemingly no answers for defending Thomas right now. Trap him, and Boston will happily fire away the resulting open threes. Switch, and he’ll turn your bigs into the star of a GIF. Hedge, and he’ll quickly turn the corner and dart into the paint.
In the rich history of the Celtics, Thomas’s performance Tuesday was one of the best ever, and it came in a head-to-head matchup against one of his finest contemporaries. Just look at these numbers!
Isaiah Thomas’ 53: second-most points in Celtics playoff history (John Havlicek, 54, 1973 conference semifinals- Celtics def Hawks, 134-109)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 3, 2017
Celtics' Isaiah Thomas scores 53 points, most in NBA playoffs since Philadelphia's Allen Iverson scored 55 points vs. Hornets on 4/20/2003.— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 3, 2017
All of this came under remarkable circumstances for Thomas. He underwent over 10 hours of dental work the last two days after he lost a tooth in Game 1. And Tuesday would have been the 23rd birthday of Thomas’s sister, something he said inspired his performance.
Of course, Thomas did not win this game alone. Brad Stevens basically employed a tight, eight-man rotation on Tuesday, and his faith in younger players was rewarded. Terry Rozier was spectacular, while Jaylen Brown also had his moments. Avery Bradley made up for a poor shooting night with his defensive intensity, and Al Horford posted a very professional double double.
Still, the Celtics aren’t out of the woods yet. Washington has been able to build big leads in both games because their starting five is playing at an extremely high level. Less foul trouble and one or two makes from Brandon Jennings could have made the difference Tuesday. The Celtics’ defense has struggled equally against Wall, and Washington’s role players should feel a little boost back home.
For now, Thomas has earned every plaudit being heaped on him as he continues his remarkable run. In a year of basketball largely defined by individual brilliance, in the very early moments of the second round, it’s Thomas whose star is shining brightest.