CHICAGO – Brad Stevens rolled the dice Sunday night, and the table stayed hot for the Boston Celtics.
Stevens made the bold decision to check Isaiah Thomas, who was saddled with four personal fouls, back into the game with 5:12 remaining in the third quarter while Jimmy Butler stood at the free-throw line with a chance to tie the game at 63-63.
At that moment, No. 4 knew what time it was: Isaiah Time.
Thomas turned his watch back and took over a quarter earlier than normal, as he scored or assisted on Boston’s final 16 points of the third period while pushing it ahead 79-70 heading into the fourth and final frame. Thomas scored 10 points during the 16-7 run, and every basket the Celtics scored was a layup.
As teammate Al Horford described it, “He just took over the game.”
Thomas and the C’s controlled the contest from that moment on, logging a critical 104-95 victory that evened the series up at 2-2.
Regarding the decision to check Thomas into the game with four fouls, Stevens downplayed it by saying that the worst thing that could have happened was Thomas fouling out of the game. He then gave context as to what was going through his head when he made the call.
“The game was not going in our direction,” said Stevens. “We needed to play a little bit better. Isaiah is a big part of our offense, and we needed to feel better about ourselves.”
We might as well call Thomas “The Therapist,” because he had the Celtics feeling a whole lot better about themselves in a matter of minuets.
Robin Lopez scored the first basket after Thomas checked into the game, and then the little guy took over. Thomas scored layups on Boston’s next two possessions to spark a 12-0 run that took less than three minutes to complete.
“We executed during that tough time when they were going on their run,” Thomas said after the game while making his first public comments since the death of his sister, Chyna, on April 15. “They had all the momentum and we just settled down, we locked in, and we finished the quarter the right way.”
Thomas pointed out that Stevens not only made the right call to check Thomas back into the game, but Stevens also called the right play that led to IT’s continual success as the quarter came to a close.
“Brad and the coaching staff figured out what they (the Bulls) were doing and we wanted to set the picks as high as possible and then just kind of let me go downhill,” Thomas explained. “I just tried to make plays, not just for myself, but for my teammates. And with guys out there like Gerald (Green), like Avery (Bradley), and guys that who can shoot the ball, you’ve got to pick your poison.”
Thomas was the death of Chicago on this night, as he battered the Bulls with his aggressive pursuit of the rim. He scored a game-high 33 points in all, including 17 during the second half. Eight of his 10 made field goals were from inside the restricted area, and he also totaled seven assists, including five during the second half.
What makes this performance all the more Herculean is the fact that Thomas is still mourning the loss of his sister. He is only eight days removed from receiving the worst news of his life, yet there he was Sunday night, dominating the Bulls and altering the path of this series.
“I can’t… I can’t believe it,” said Stevens, who was nearly at a loss for words while discussing Thomas’ heroics. “I tried to say that earlier this week. What he’s been through, and the day-to-day, it’s been unfathomable the way that he’s performed on the court. It’s been really incredible.”
Thomas, meanwhile, gave insight as to just how difficult the last week has been for him to battle through.
“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” he said. “I just feed off what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is, I guess, what makes me sane, and feel somewhat normal through this tough time.”
He then lauded the Celtics organization for the support it has shown him during his time of loss.
“This organization is the best organization there is,” he said, “from the people who work in the Garden, to the players, the coaches, everybody who’s a part of the Celtics, they’ve been supportive. The whole world has, really. I can’t say enough about them.”
In reality, it’s the Celtics and their fans who can’t say enough about Thomas. He continues to amaze, even when he’s knee-deep in foul trouble.
Stevens made a massive gamble when he rolled the dice and checked Thomas back into the game during the third quarter of Game 4, and that gamble paid off in a big way when it turned up No. 4.
Thanks to Thomas, this series is now all knotted up at 2-2, and it’s shifting back to Boston for a Wednesday-night showdown at TD Garden.