Thomas' Career Night Gets C’s Back on Track

BOSTON – Celtics coach Brad Stevens likens a basketball game to running a mile around a 400-meter track.

There are four quarters that represent four laps, and in order to reach the finish line victorious, there must be a strong, consistent pace throughout.

Friday night, Boston took its first 12-minute lap at lightning speed as it hosted Atlanta for Game 3 of the first round of the Playoffs. The Celtics flew out to a 37-20 lead by the end of the first quarter, but expended an immense amount of energy in the process.

Sure enough, Atlanta battled back and eventually took the lead late in the third quarter, which prompted Stevens to expound upon his metaphor following the final buzzer.

“For any of you that have ever run the mile,” he explained to the media, “you run the first lap breakneck speed, and then at about the third lap it just feels like you’re never going to make the last two laps.”

Typically, a runner would be passed by another in that situation. Or, in the case of a basketball team, it would blow its lead and have difficulty recovering.

There are a few freak athletes, however, that can keep going at breakneck pace and never let up until the finish.

Fortunately, Boston had one such athlete on its side Friday night, as Isaiah Thomas sprinted from the starting gates to the finish line and never broke stride en route to a career-high 42 points that guided Boston to a critical 111-103 Game 3 win.

“I thought that we were starting to wear down after we took that 19-point lead [in the second quarter],” said Stevens. “But then Isaiah made huge play after huge play.”

IT dashed out with a 16-point first quarter, nearly outscoring the entire Atlanta squad during that span. He played just half of the second frame, but came out and tallied 12 points during the third and 11 during the fourth to cap off his career performance.

Thomas’ second-half effort was particularly impressive as he kept the C’s afloat despite Atlanta’s comeback effort. He was playing as if it was the last game of the season, throwing his body around and putting everything on the line for his team.

“Tonight was just a game that I didn’t care what happened,” said Thomas. “I was out there just trying to make the right play, make the winning plays and do what I can to help this team win.”

Throughout Games 1 and 2, the point guard experienced difficulty making such plays. Atlanta was swallowing him up in the paint and he seemed a bit out of his element, which was evident by his 33.3 percent shooting from the field.

So Boston adjusted heading into Game 3 by playing Thomas off the ball more, and it worked wonders. With Thomas not serving as much of a primary ball-handling role, he was able to fly more freely around the court and get different looks off screens and in transition.

“That was a really good adjustment that they made,” reflected Hawks guard Kyle Korver. “They were setting great screens and that was a look that we hadn’t had from him in this series, so it’s something that we were talking about after the game.

“We have to be ready for it, but it definitely gives them a different look when he’s coming off the screen and just loaded with the ball right away.”

And when IT is locked and loaded, he always has the green light to shoot away.

“Can’t get any more green than playing here,” Stevens cleverly stated. “He can shoot it whenever he’s open or thinks he’s open.”

Sometimes, it appears as if Thomas just needs an inch of separation to feel open. He proved that time and time again Friday night as he knocked down a number of contested shots.

“He hit five 3s and some of them were tough,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. “Coming off pin-downs, coming off screens… he had a heck of a night.”

As Thomas put it after the game, “I was just in attack mode. I was trying to do everything it takes to win this game, and my teammates kept feeding me and putting me in the right spots and the shots were falling.”

Those shots will need to keep falling when Boston takes the court Sunday night for Game 4. As long as Thomas keeps running laps around Atlanta like he did during Friday’s contest, the C’s should be in position to tie this series up 2-2.

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