Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas was once the very last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft but he might be the biggest draft steal of the last decade. Boston currently sits at 2nd place in the East at 30-18 in large part because of the 5’9″ scorer. The Celtics play the Raptors tonight for sole ownership of the lead in the Atlantic division. Toronto took the first two meetings this season but have been struggling as of late, leaving the door open for Boston to take the division lead. Toronto will also be without their leading scorer in Demar Derozan, who is out with a back injury.
There’s no doubt that Boston wouldn’t be in the position they’re currently in if it wasn’t for their bite-sized point guard. Isaiah Thomas is having a spectacular season in more ways than one. Just this past Monday, he dropped 41 points against the Pistons, including 24 of those in the 4th quarter. This is no isolated incident either. Thomas was en fuego in the month of January, averaging 32.9 points per game. It’s the fourth highest scoring month in Celtics history, behind Paul Pierce and Larry Bird. Not bad company for the NBA’s Mr. Irrelevant. For the season as a whole, Isaiah is the league’s 2nd leading scorer trailing only Russell Westbrook of the Thunder.
With a certain New England team getting ready to play in the Super Bowl, Thomas and the Celtics have been flying under the radar lately, but they might be as hot as any team in the league right now. Isaiah has been getting his points from all over the floor. He’s cashed in on 94% of his free throws over his last 23 games since returning from a groin injury in mid-December. In that same span, he’s averaged 32.5 points per contest, scoring 34 points or more in 11 of those games. His most memorable performance had to be his career high 52-point explosion on New Years Eve against the Heat. Since returning from injury, Thomas has shot above 50% from the field all while leading Boston to a 17-6 record over those 23 ballgames.
It’s not like these are garbage time baskets that Thomas is getting either. Boston has been without their best wing defender in Avery Bradley for a good part of the past month and the Celtics have needed every bit of Thomas’ heroics to pick up the slack. The Celtics have built up a reputation as one of the toughest and most annoying defenses to play against over the past few years under coach Brad Stevens but this season that number has really dropped off. The C’s rank just 20th league wide in defensive efficiency but they have found ways to win even without Bradley in the lineup in large part because Thomas’ scoring has covered up a multitude of sins by his team’s defense and lack of rebounding.
To say Thomas has stepped his game up in crunch time this season would be a major understatement. He’s now known as “The King in the Fourth” across the league and deservedly so. He leads all players with just over 10 points per game in the final period of play and he’s 2nd across the association in “clutch scoring” where the game is in the final five minutes and the score is within five points.
You can watch the Celtics take on the Raptors tonight at 7:30PM ET.