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LOS ANGELES – Isaiah Thomas made his first appearance with the Celtics Sunday night in Los Angeles. He sure didn’t disappoint, at least for the first 43 minutes of the game.
Thomas joined the Celtics Saturday night, arriving in L.A. along with his reputation as an offensive sparkplug. He could have won an Oscar for his performance in that role.
Brad Stevens called his name for the first time with with 5:27 left in the first quarter of Sunday's game. It didn’t take long for the 5-foot-9 point guard to start heating up.
Thomas scored his first points as a Celtic less than a minute after he checked in, putting home a driving layup in the lane. By the time the first half had come to a close, he had already racked up 15 points – more than any Celtics player averaged per game heading into the contest.
How did one of Thomas’ new teammates sum up the first-half run?
“Explosiveness,” Evan Turner said, “explains everything.”
Turner hit the nail on the head.
Thomas showcased a wide-ranging offensive repertoire that Los Angeles could not contain. He hit driving layups, fadeaways and 3-pointers, and he got to the free-throw line on the regular. Thomas made one acrobatic up-and-under layup along the baseline that caused eyes to pop along press row.
“It’s what he does,” Stevens said of Thomas’ balanced offensive play. “He’s a good player. He’s a scorer, and he can also get inside and make plays for others.”
The latter skill was on display during the second half, when Thomas dished out three beautiful assists to his teammates. He also scored six more points, taking his total to 21 on the night, during his 10 second-half minutes.
Wait - only 10 second-half minutes? How could the most electric player in the game log only 10 second-half minutes?
That’s where the final five minutes of the game come into play.
Nearly 43 minutes of game time had ticked off of the clock before Thomas was whistled for an offensive foul at the 5:03 mark of the fourth quarter. Referee Tony Brothers claimed that Thomas pushed off on his defender, and Thomas took exception to the call.
The point guard showcased his displeasure by slamming the ball into the ground, prompting Brothers to whistle Thomas for a technical foul. Thomas then picked up a second tech by tossing the ball toward Brothers.
Just like that, Thomas' impressive night was over, and the Celtics had lost their most effective scoring threat.
“You need scorers on the floor late in the game,” a visibly upset Stevens said after the game. He later added, “He’s got to be there at the end.”
Thomas was instead back in the locker room taking a premature shower as his Celtics drifted toward a loss.
Boston trailed by four points at the time of the ejection. Seventy seconds later, its deficit had ballooned to nine points, matching the largest deficit of the game at that time. The Celtics managed to force overtime but lacked the offensive firepower to outlast the Lakers, falling 118-111.
As the team made its way back into the locker room, Thomas was there awaiting them. He had something he needed to get off of his chest.
“He came in and apologized to us,” Marcus Smart stated. “He understands that he made a mistake.”
Based on all reports, it sounds as if Thomas’ apology was accepted. His teammates, Smart included, are not holding the ejection against their new teammate.
“You can’t fault him for that,” Smart said. “He was passionate. It was a mistake that anyone else could make. You live with that type of mistake because he was out there giving it his all.”
Turner later added, “Obviously he wanted to be out there to help us. It’s his first impression, but we don’t think negatively of him.”
Depending on context, one could argue that Turner’s statement is incorrect.
Thomas’ first impression, in fact, was that he can be a game-changing offensive threat for his new team. He acted as such for the first 43 minutes of the game. His second impression was that he’s susceptible to the emotion of the game, which left him in the locker room for the most critical juncture of the night.
Let’s hope that Thomas' first impression turns out to be his lasting impression. The Celtics need him to be an offensive weapon – one that’s available during crunch time.