Isaiah Thomas‘ last shot of the night was his boldest. More than 30 feet from the basket, with Jeff Teague out past the three-point line defender him, Thomas saw his team’s four-point lead, saw the two minutes remaining on the clock, and decided to end it. With a sidestep dribble to his right, he lulled Teague to sleep before rising way up over him to bury the dagger.
The shot gave Thomas 40 points for the first time in his career, but his reaction was muted. Two possessions later, and Thomas darted in front of a baseline pass from Atlanta for a steal that really sealed the game, Thomas’ only response was to ice it from the line for 42 points.
“The great players make adjustments and they go from there,” Thomas said, after the buzzer sounded on the Celtics‘ 111-103 win.
That’s Thomas. Game 2 was a disaster for him, shooting just 4-of-15 for 16 points as the Celtics scored just seven points in the first quarter and lost handily. Instead of dwelling on Atlanta’s swarming defense, Thomas changed his approach. Texts from Allen Iverson, Isiah Thomas and Jamal Crawford helped set him in the right direction, he said in an interview on the court after the game. Within minutes off the opening tip-off, he aggressively pulled up and knocked down three-pointers. That set the tone for all the herky-jerk drives and creative dashes into the lane, while setting up the Hawks defenders to jump all over him for fouls, all leading to the best scoring night for a player on the Celtics since Rajon Rondo’s 44 in 2012.
Atlanta had their problems, including 25-percent shooting from behind the arc and Paul Millsap and Al Horford combined for just 16 points. But Thomas was the biggest one, just a game after containing him so well. At 5’9, Thomas is the most unusual of superstars, someone who only ever needed to be wanted by a team. He has found that in Boston, who used his special night and the rest of their roster’s willpower to notch their first playoff win and cut the Hawks‘ series lead to 2-1.
There was plenty of chippiness during the game, with three combined flagrant fouls and this strange open palm slap that Thomas hit Dennis Schroder with in the face. (Schroder was not happy about it.) What exactly happened here, we’re not sure, although the NBA will surely levy some retroactive punishment before Game 4 of this series.
But after the game, Thomas left any celebrations he might have on the floor. He had his best game ever, sure, but his team is still down and there’s more work to be done. Thomas isn’t here to celebrate a single victory, not when there’s still a war that needs to be won.
2 more things from Friday
There’s only so many ways you can celebrate a series that’s currently 3-0, but the Pistons truly have done excellent work in their first round series against Cleveland. In Game 1, a close 96-91 loss, the team proved that they were scared of the Cavaliers, despite most of this Detroit roster making the playoffs for the first time. On Friday, Cleveland won 101-91, but the Pistons battled them virtually the entire way until a stupid Kyrie Irving dagger with 0.7 seconds left on the shot clock all but buried them.
Still, Detroit is shaping up around Stan Van Gundy and although their players won’t feel great about it, this series really has shown great signs. There’s a defensive presence that’s just a couple years away from becoming truly suffocating against anyone who plays them, starting with Andre Drummond in the middle with young, athletic wings surrounding him. The Pistons have fought Cleveland from start to finish, now bowing down in a 1 vs. 8 series like some teams inevitably do. The mid-season Tobias Harris trade has accelerated their timetable, but they still need time for him to fully assimilate into that culture. Really, given the youth movement, the entire team just needs another season and a few talent upgrades around the edges. Regardless, this is one of the rosters that’s looking up as the NBA continues rolling along. Cleveland will likely win this series on Sunday, but if nothing else, Detroit has earned their respect.
Please, please, please, it’s time. Memphis did a hell of a job keeping Game 3 close, even leading briefly during a couple spots in the second half. With that said, this is a zombie team desperately trying to beat the Rick Grimes-like Spurs. Not only will it not happen, but this series loss is going to happen in the most lopsided way possible, all while the viewer never feels any danger than the protagonist could die.
Again, this isn’t the Grizzlies’ fault. They did all they could on Friday. When facing a season of injuries like this, all you can really do is shrug your arms and hope the last vestiges of Memphis don’t come crumbling down this offseason with Mike Conley’s free agency.
The Grizzlies injury situation is even more ludicrous on paper pic.twitter.com/THay2fU2WI
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) April 23, 2016
Play of the night
KYRIE DAGGGER !!!! pic.twitter.com/bdVRZSvaqV
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) April 23, 2016
Great shot, but what about LeBron’s pass, too!
3 fun things
Irving had the play of the night and LeBron James could not have been happier.