IT's Career Night Places Him Among Legends
BOSTON – The Miami Heat tried their best to contain Isaiah Thomas as he flew through the lane during the closing minutes of Friday night’s tight battle against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.
But nothing – not even a hand to his face as he soared for a layup– was going to stop Thomas on this night, as he marched his way into the Celtics record books.
Miami’s Tyler Johnson draped his right hand over Thomas’ eyes and nose in a last-ditch effort to halt the shot attempt, but IT’s sixth sense kicked in as he banked home the blind, and-one layup that gave Boston a 103-98 lead with 4:05 remaining in the game.
When he landed on his feet, now with 43 points to his name, there was a fierce flame glowing in Thomas’ eyes. He strode out to mid-court with his brow furrowed and his palms raised toward the roof, and he beckoned to the crowd.
Celtics Nation answered with a roaring 'MVP' chant, which just fueled Thomas’ fire even more.
“To hear 'MVP' chants, you dream about that as a kid,” Thomas reflected after Boston’s 117-114 win. “And to have it happen playing in the Garden for the Celtics, it doesn’t get any bigger than that.”
Thomas responded to the big moment with a big finish, as he scored 10 more points to cap off a career-best 52-point effort. Twenty-nine of those points came during the final quarter, as he smashed Larry Bird and Todd Day’s previously-shared franchise mark of 24 points during a single-quarter.
The performance left Thomas’ teammates completely stunned.
“I’ve never seen someone score 50 points in a game,” said Jae Crowder, “so I caught myself a few times just watching the show.”
There have not been many fourth-quarter shows in the history of the NBA that have reached the magnitude of Thomas’ effort Friday night. Only one performance has exceeded it – Wilt Chamberlain’s 31-point fourth quarter that was logged on March 2, 1962 during his historic 100-point game.
That’s crazy,” said Thomas in response to hearing his name mentioned in the company of Chamberlain’s. “That doesn’t even seem real to be in the same conversation as Wilt, but maybe one day I can break that (record).”
Perhaps the most fascinating part of Thomas’ performance, as Brad Stevens pointed out, was the fact that he and his teammates had very little rest the night before. The team flew home during the wee hours of Friday morning following Thursday night's game in Cleveland, but that clearly did not impact Thomas’ production.
“It was obviously an unbelievable effort to not only finish out a long month, but six games in nine days, come back, get in at three in the morning (from Cleveland), and go for 29 in the fourth,” said Stevens. “It’s remarkable. I don’t know what else to say.”
Nothing else needed to be said. Thomas let his game do the talking Friday night, particularly from beyond the arc.
The point guard tied Antoine Walker’s franchise mark with nine 3-point makes on 13 attempts. His most impressive long-range shot was his last one – a contested 3 from at least 10 feet beyond the arc that gave him his 48th, 49th and 50th points of the night.
Thomas had the green light wherever and whenever he wanted it, and he gave his coaches and teammates credit for putting him in position to take and make those shots.
“They kept setting screens and coach kept calling plays for me,” said Thomas. “And without my teammates, without coach Brad believing in me and putting me into position to be who I am, there is no 52. There are no games like this.”
Thomas’ teammates, however, refuted his efforts to praise them for helping him reach the half-century mark.
“There were no screens, there was no nothing,” Al Horford said with a laugh from beside his locker. “He was making it happen; that was the most impressive part to me.”
Added Stevens, “It had nothing to do with coaching; that was just an unbelievably willful performance.”
It was a willful performance that will go down as one of the best in franchise history; only Larry Bird (60 and 53) and Kevin McHale (56) have tallied more points during a single-game effort in Celtics uniform.
Thomas’ 52-point effort also vaulted him into first place on the Eastern Conference scoring list (27.7 PPG), which further solidifies his case to earn his second straight All-Star appearance come February.