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NEW ORLEANS – Isaiah Thomas could barely bend the sprained middle finger on his shooting hand Monday night when he took the court to face the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center.
That, however, did not prevent Boston’s point guard from going off for one of the best scoring nights of his career, while nearly leading the Celtics to a fourth-quarter, come-from-behind win.
Thomas, with his swollen left middle finger wrapped in black medical tape scored 18 of his 37 points during the fourth quarter, finishing one point shy of his regular-season career high.
Unfortunately, the Celtics also fell one point shy on the scoreboard, as New Orleans halted Boston’s late-game, double-digit comeback effort with a 106-105 win.
The pain was excruciating for Thomas, who explained after the game, “It hurts every time I touch the ball.”
He was even more challenged by the adjustments he had to make in order to work around the pain.
“I just don’t have the same feel I have when it’s not swollen, so a lot of my layups and (shots) come off my hand wrong,” said Thomas, who also dished out a game-high seven assists. “I’m just trying to slowly figure it out and adjust. It’s tough, but there’s no excuses, so I’ll figure it out.”
Based on Monday’s performance, it appears as if Thomas has already ‘figured it out.’ The guard tied a career high with 13 field goal makes on 29 attempts, and also shot 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.
Tying a career best while dealing with an injury to a shooting hand may seem like an astonishing accomplishment to those outside Boston’s locker room, but those who are around Thomas and witness his willpower every day were not surprised by his performance.
“Isaiah’s super tough,” said Brad Stevens. “He always has nicks and bruises because of the way he plays, but he’s a tough guy.”
Added Kelly Olynyk, “He’s a really tough kid. We need him and he delivers for us.”
On this night, however, Thomas’ efforts were not enough. Only two other Celtics – Avery Bradley (19 points) and Marcus Smart (15 points) – cracked double digits in the scoring column. Bradley said after the game that the team needs to produce more of a well-rounded offensive effort and should not have to rely solely upon Thomas.
“I don’t feel like we played as well as we should have,” said Bradley. “Even myself – I don’t feel like I came out and made shots in the second half and it hurt our team. It can’t just be Isaiah; it has to be other guys that are out there making plays for each other and making shots.”
A bit more tenacity on the offensive end may also help the Celtics, as Thomas is the only member of the team who is consistently getting to the free-throw line. New Orleans went to the line 36 times to Boston’s 20 Monday night. Thomas accounted for half of those 20 attempts, while no other Celtic attempted more than two.
“My job is to be aggressive and put the defense in position to foul me, and I’ve always done that,” said Thomas. “So I guess it’s a skill that you’ve gotta learn how to do. You gotta be aggressive, and I’m not saying that guys are shying away from contact, but you gotta want the contact to get the foul.”
Even facing injury, Thomas maintained his ferocious attitude Monday night and nearly drove Boston to a win. The Celtics, however, understand that they will need multiple players to display such toughness if they hope to have a successful season.