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NEW ORLEANS – Isaiah Thomas went and did it again.
And by “it,” we mean annihilate a team during the opening 24 minutes of a game.
Thomas scored 19 points during the first-half alone Monday night in New Orleans, powering the Celtics to a nine-point halftime lead and an eventual 111-93 victory.
The performance marked the second time in Boston’s last three games that the electric point guard scored 19 points during the first half.
“The ball was going in the basket, I was in the right position in the offense, teammates found me, and I just made plays,” a modest Thomas said after the game. “That’s what it was.”
It is incredibly rare for a Celtic to catch fire the way Thomas did Monday night, let alone to do so twice in a three-game span. There have been only 16 instances in Boston’s last 378 games – that’s 0.04 percent of the time – that one of its players has scored at least 19 points during the first half of a game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Thomas did it twice in five days.
Each of these 19-point halves were attained in eerily similar fashion. On both occasions, Thomas canned eight field goals and three 3-pointers during the opening 24 minutes.
Monday’s effort, however, was even more impressive than Thursday’s against Sacramento.
Thomas lit the Kings up with an 8-of-13 shooting performance during the first half that included a 3-of-5 effort from long range. This time around, the point guard made the basket look as large as the ocean while shooting with nearly perfect precision. He nailed eight of his nine shots and all three of his 3-pointers during the first half against New Orleans.
Asked how it felt to be in such a zone, Thomas replied by saying, “It feels pretty good.”
It would have felt even better, he said half-jokingly, if he had been a bit more selfish with the ball.
“I should have shot more,” he said with a laugh. Thomas later added, “Maybe if I shot more I would’ve felt like, ‘Dang, I’m feeling it today.’”
The rest of the Celtics sure felt like Thomas was feeling it and that’s why they continued to feed him. Three different teammates assisted on at least one of his first-half buckets while Thomas attempted a team-high nine shots.
“He’s one of those guys that can go off for 10 or 12 in a couple of minutes,” said teammate Kelly Olynyk, who assisted on one of Thomas’ baskets. “It’s huge to have that kind of threat.”
Huge, as in game-changing. Monday’s shooting performance by Thomas was the sole reason why Boston took a comfortable nine-point lead into halftime. He shot 88.9 percent from the field while his teammates made only 37.5 percent of their shot attempts. His 19 points accounted for more than one-third of the team’s total heading into the locker rooms.
“He kind of kept us afloat there when things started going awry,” Stevens said of Thomas. “We put him right back in, and he scored it.”
A player who can do such a thing is called a “stopper” in the NBA. He is the answer to another team’s run, a guy who can make big shots to close a game out.
Thomas is that type of player, and that’s why Stevens called his number with 4:47 left in the game while Boston led by 20 points.
“I just like to close out the game,” Stevens said of the decision to re-insert Thomas. “I don’t know much about the NBA, but I know nothing is safe.”
Boston’s lead was safe once Thomas checked back into the game. He went and scored 19 points during the first half again Monday night to help the Celtics build a comfortable lead. He wasn’t about to let it slip away.