Boston’s Isaiah Thomas Sunday was dazzling in leading the Celtics to the 104-95 victory with 33 points, including 10 and an assist in the decisive 12-0 late third quarter run that saved the game—and perhaps the series—for the Celtics.
Unfortunately, he was cheating.
At least that was the post game charge and observation from Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.
Hoiberg said Thomas palms and carries the ball every time he dribbles, thus making it “impossible” to defend him. Hoiberg said he’s constantly pointed it out to the officials, though with no response. So perhaps in channeling Memphis coach David Fizdale, whose team got back in the series with the Spurs after a post game rant about the officiating, Hoiberg said Thomas’ violations of the rules just continued to get more pronounced and obvious.
Hoiberg is correct. Thomas puts his hand under the ball basically every time he dribbles. Technically, a dribble is when your hand is on top of the ball. Thomas also basically carries the ball with him and then dribbles again, what is considered a hesitation dribble these days. The problem Hoiberg has about his comment is the evolution of the NBA basically has informally eliminated palming or carrying the ball as a violation.
You see all those fabulous crossover moves from Allen Iverson forward, and they mostly cannot be done without technically violating the rule. The crossover move is hardly new. Archie Clark was doing it in the 1960s. But it’s expanded so much that almost all the NBA guards remain in technical violation of the rules.
“That’s not the reason why I’m an impossible cover,” Thomas said when asked about Hoiberg’s comments. “No one man can guard me; that’s the confidence I have. I guess he is going to keep saying that. I’ve been dribbling that way all my life. I don’t know what to say. I don’t think I’ve been called for it one time this year. I can’t recall one time this season I’ve been called for it. So I don’t think that would change.”
Thomas met reporters for the first time since the automobile accident death of his sister before the series began. Thomas’ 17 fourth quarter points proved decisive after the Bulls rallied from a 20-point deficit to take a two-point third quarter lead.
It was as angry as Hoiberg has been after a game in his two seasons coaching the Bulls.
He was asked about the team’s point guard problems and not about Thomas. The Bulls started Jerian Grant, replaced him quickly with Michael Carter-Williams, and then got the best point guard production in the series from rarely used Isaiah Canaan. Canaan likely will start Game 5 Wednesday. In being asked about his point guards, Hoiberg took a detour to Boston’s.
“Obviously, we got off to another poor start from the get go,” Hoiberg began in second gear. “We dug ourselves a 10-point hole right out of the gate. We had to spend a lot of energy getting back in it. Spent so much energy climbing out of that hole. I was proud of Isaiah Canaan after a lot of lot of DNPs, being on the inactive list. Wanted to get him in because he is a guy who can pressure the ball and pick up the ball full court. He hit a couple of shots for us as well; that was the plan coming in. If we didn’t get off to a good start he was going to get his opportunity.”
And then Hoiberg shifted into fourth gear.
“I thought he really battled (Thomas) and let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor, warrior. Everything he is going through right now. He had a hell of game tonight. But when you are allowed to discontinue your dribble every possession, he is impossible to guard. He is impossible to guard when you are able to put your hand underneath the ball and take two or three steps and put it back down; it’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”
Hoiberg then answered a few questions with “Yes” comments about it being more flagrant Sunday, about having constantly told the officials, about the NBA saying this was a point of emphasis this season: “It should be called; that’s all I’m going to say about it,” said Hoiberg. Then he left.
Motivation, perhaps, with the Bulls losing both games at home to surrender home court advantage?
“It’s great,” Dwyane Wade said about Hoiberg stepping up with the officials for the players. “All players want coach to have their back. Whenever coach does that, it makes guys want to do a little bit more for him, want to give him a little bit more. So it’s always great when you feel that when your coach has your back.”
So will the officials watch more carefully in Game 5? Will the Bulls respond and not be behind 20 in the first half again. Will teams start throwing the ball back to their centers if the guards cannot dribble that way anymore? Tune in Wednesday.