For Thomas, Seeing Is Believing
BOSTON – For the last two games, all eyes have been on Isaiah Thomas.
Well, except for his own. Nobody knows where Thomas’ eyes are, because he’s seeing things that nobody else can.
Whether it’s teammates in unlikely spots, passing angles that only reveal themselves after the ball has been zipped through the eye of the needle, or finding just enough daylight to launch a rainbow 3-pointer despite a hand in his grill, Thomas is seeing everything.
How’s he doing it? Rookie Jaylen Brown, who at one point got assists on three consecutive buckets from Thomas, thinks the Celtics point guard has an anatomical advantage.
“I really do think he has eyes on the back of his head. I think he can actually see behind him,” said Brown. “Sometimes when he’s in the paint with the trees, and he just whips it out to the 3-point line, it’s like, ‘How did he see that?’ I think he has eyes in the back of his head.
“Behind his headband.”
Of course, if you were watching Friday’s game against Miami with your own eyes, you’re probably asking, “Isaiah Thomas passes the ball?”
Toward the end of his career-best 52-point game, it was pretty clear Thomas was thinking score first, score second and score third. Down the stretch of his 29-point fourth quarter, Thomas was a one a man wrecking crew, and if he needed help, he wasn’t showing it.
His eyes were fixed on the basket. He finished the game without an assist.
“If they would have said something, then I would have really tried to not score and get assists. But after the game last time, I was upset, and they were like, ‘You scored 52 bro. Who cares about your asissts?’” Thomas said.
“So I wasn’t trippin’. When they weren’t tripping, I was good.”
Thomas wasn’t tripping, or gripping and ripping for that matter. Tuesday night against the Jazz, he was singing a different tune. Thomas was setting up teammates, dealing dimes and making them pretty, too. He handed out a career-best 15 assists to go with his 29 points, and perhaps more importantly, he mesmerized the Jazz defense to the point where he had Utah’s defenders forgetting about their own guys.
“When I attack, they show more than one guy. My job is to find the open guy. I tried to do that,” Thomas said after the game, surrounded as always, but this time by reporters instead of ball-hawking defenders under the basket. “I’m just taking what the defense gives me.”
The Jazz’s defense was giving up 3-pointers, to the tune of 17 made 3-point field goals for the Celtics, tying the franchise record set – wait for it – on Friday at TD Garden. And while the Celtics are no strangers to the arc (only three teams attempt more treys than Boston’s 31.6 3FGAs per game), most of Tuesday night’s bombs were wide open thanks to Thomas’ penetration and magnetism in the paint.
“I don’t know how much more attention he can attract. He’s been doing it here for two years,” Celtics Coach Brad Stevens said, going on to compliment his point guard as a “tough shot maker.” After all, Thomas wasn’t too shabby shooting the ball or finishing at the rim. But perhaps most impressive was Thomas’ ability to make the right plays at the right times.
Thomas only committed one turnover in just over 35 minutes of play.
“It’s all about making the right read over and over,” Stevens said of Thomas’ ability to find teammates even when he’s surrounded at the rim has nowhere else to go. “All (great players) have the right read; it’s been thought out and lived so many times, they just make it as part of a habit.”
How he got the ball to them, though, is anyone’s guess.
“I don’t know how he saw me,” Al Horford said of Thomas’ blind assist that found him wide open at the top of the key for an easy three. “It’s very impressive how he’s able to find us out there.”
Either Thomas truly can see behind him, or he’s just passing to where his teammates were supposed to be, and they’re holding up their end of the bargain. Thomas credited that to experience with the Celtics system, as well as just playing together with his teammates for a while.
We had to ask: Can you actually see your teammates when you draw multiple defenders under the hoop and then kick it out for wide-open shots?
“Sometimes I can’t see,” Thomas said. “You’ve just got to trust where your guys will be. That’s being familiar with the guys you play with. Most of the time guys are in the right spots. When I can’t see, I just, I know Jae (Crowder)’s gonna be on my right side.”
Basically, Thomas is making passes that not only have to be seen to be believed, but he has to believe his teammates are there to see them himself.
“He’s just getting better and he’s getting more and more confident,” Brown said. “He has so much attention on him. For me, it’s just simple plays, simple basketball. All I’ve got to do is just finish. He makes the game easier for me.”
Hours after being edged out for the Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors by John Wall, Thomas was picking up where he left off on Friday. He made it clear during the game and after the game that he thought he should have won the award.
In the opening minutes, Thomas came out of the gate looking to score, but was also distributing the basketball. Thomas assisted Jae Crowder on the Celtics’ second hoop of the game, and had doled out seven during the first half. And in the first three minutes of the second half, Thomas racked up four more dimes.
He was also putting up rainbow jumpers, hand-in-his-grill 3-pointers and Cirque du Soleil-ups. Once the game was in hand, Thomas finally got to the free throw line. Fans who hadn’t had a chance to chant “M.V.P.” yet finally got their wish. Twice.
Thomas heard them.
“They’re the only ones who like me,” he deadpanned.