After avoiding suspension, Isaiah Thomas ready for encore in Game 4 – USA TODAY

6 months ago Comments Off on After avoiding suspension, Isaiah Thomas ready for encore in Game 4 – USA TODAY

WALTHAM, Mass. — Isaiah Thomas said he was never worried about it. In fact, he was never even questioned by the NBA league office. But a part of Thomas must have been just a little concerned.

The Boston Celtics point guard dazzled a raucous TD Garden crowd with a career-high 42 points in Friday’s must-win Game 3 against the Atlanta Hawks, but there was one moment that lingered over the proceedings.

Late in the first quarter, as Hawks guard Dennis Schroder was heading up the court, Thomas swiped him with his left hand. There was no foul called, but there were whispers Thomas could be suspended for his actions and miss Game 4 on Sunday.

He wasn’t. In the end, the only discipline handed down by the league was a belated flagrant-1 call. The incident behind him — “If I tried to hit somebody, I would have hit them” — the All-Star is now preparing for Sunday’s game (6 p.m. ET, TNT) in an attempt to tie the series before it heads back to Atlanta. What can he do for an encore?

“Get 43,” he said with a chuckle following Saturday’s shootaround. “Just win the game.”

Thomas has had a different backcourt partner at tip-off for each playoff game. Avery Bradley is the unquestioned starter when he’s healthy, but he’s battling a hamstring injury.

Marcus Smart assumed duties in Game 2. Coach Brad Stevens made the switch to Evan Turner on Friday, and the move paid off. The versatile, 6-7 swingman carried the ball up on many occasions, freeing Thomas to cut to the basket.

“He makes it easier for me because I know when I am open he’s going to make the play to get me the ball,” Thomas said. “But also he puts pressure on (the) defense because he can make plays for himself.

“Whenever you have guys that can go out and get a bucket themselves, it always makes it harder on the defense. They gotta pick their poison. They wanna shadow me and have multiple guys on me or do they wanna be on Evan? He’s a hell of a player.”

If the Celtics are going to build on their momentum, Jae Crowded needs to break out of a monumental shooting slump. The starting small forward is connecting at a woeful 19.4% from the field on 36 attempts through three games (6.7 points per game). Stevens hasn’t shied from playing him, though. Crowder is averaging 33.7 minutes per playoff contest.

During the regular season, Crowded averaged 14.2 points per game and shot 44.3% from the field. He’s trying to break out of it and isn’t resting on superstition. The fourth-year player traveled to the Celtics’ practice facility in Waltham, about 20 miles from TD Garden, immediately after the game.

He brought a friend to rebound and went to work for 45 minutes before heading home to sleep at 1:30 a.m.

“I wanted to prepare myself even more for Game 4. It’s a big game for us and I really want to hit some shots,” he said. “I’m doing great on the defensive end, guys are still applauding me on that. I just want to lift my team up a little more on the offensive end.”

After receiving little from Crowder so far this series, anything he produces would be a big bonus. But as always, the Celtics will go as Thomas goes. And he’s ready to give the fans a worthy encore.

“I’m just glad I wasn’t suspended and can help the team in Game 4,” he said. “I’m just ready to fight and try to get my team the win.”


After avoiding suspension, Isaiah Thomas ready for encore in Game 4 – USA TODAY

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