Thomas Lights Up Palace as C's Roll in Detroit
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Pistons fans were spoiled for years as they watched Isiah Thomas dominate opponents. On Wednesday night, they watched Isaiah Thomas dominate the Pistons.
Thomas had 11 points at halftime but showed no harbingers of the forthcoming explosion he was about to unleash during the Celtics’ 113-103 victory over Detroit.
Thomas erupted for 23 points over his next 13 minutes of play, and his inside-outside attack gave the Celtics (36-42) a comfortable advantage heading into the fourth. He finished with 34 points, with 10 of them coming at the free-throw line.
“It was just one of them nights. Shots were falling. I was being aggressive,” Thomas said after the game. “That’s my job. Be aggressive and get to the line.”
The win gives the Celtics a full one-game cushion on their playoff spot, and they actually stood seventh overall when the team plane took off for Cleveland late Wednesday night. Heck, we don’t mean to get carried away, but they’re only two games behind the sixth-placed Milwaukee Bucks.
The Pistons jumped ahead 14-8 during the first five and a half minutes, with all of those 14 points coming in the paint. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond looked dominant inside, and the Celtics appeared to have a tight game on their hands. But when Drummond picked up his second foul with 4:24 left in the first, things opened up and the Celtics put together a 20-2 run once Drummond was on the bench to close the quarter.
The Celtics rode a 55-47 lead into the half as the Pistons put a run of their own together to close out the second frame, but they weren’t ready for what awaited them in the second half.
Either the Celtics’ game plan worked to perfection, or the Pistons’ strategy fell apart, because Thomas met little resistance when he probed the paint during the third quarter.
“I did a move and I’d end up at the hoop,” Thomas said. “It was kind of weird. But I just took what the defense gave me. When I got into the teeth of the defense, there was about four or five times where nobody was around. That’s weird for me. Usually there’s someone there looking to block my shot.
“In the third quarter, I came in and I was aggressive. My teammates set some amazing screens for me and got me open."
The Pistons finally began to blitz Thomas on the pick-and-roll during the fourth quarter, but by then, the damage was done.
Thomas checked out with 4:42 in the fourth with the Celtics up 107-92, and the game was basically over. Thomas finished his night with a preposterous plus-35 plus/minus rating, and he also handed out six assists along the way during nearly 30 minutes of play.
Thomas’ ability to get into the paint and get to the free-throw line is a game-changer for the Celtics, something that was obvious upon his acquisition at the trade deadline, but that disappeared when he went down with a back injury last month in Miami.
“I thought the first week back from the back injury, he was very tentative,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Thomas. “But in the last few games he’s really playing more like himself. Hey, we need him to be good. We don’t need him to score 34 every night, but we need him to be good. He was good tonight.”
When the Pistons drew within 10 points at the 2:50 mark of the fourth, threatening to make it a game, Thomas came back in, but it never got close enough to really sweat. The Celtics skipped town as Brooklyn lost to the Hawks in the final seconds of their matchup, and the Green charted a course for Cleveland feeling a little more comfortable about their playoff aspirations.
In fact, if the playoffs started tomorrow - don’t worry, the playoffs never start early – the Celtics would face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. Either way, before the cart gets in front of the horse, the Celtics have two regular season games against the Cavaliers coming up this weekend.
Friday night’s tilt is in Cleveland, and Sunday’s afternoon game will be at TD Garden. Thomas and the Celtics will be taking them in the traditional, if not stereotypical fashion – one game at a time.