BOSTON – Isaiah Thomas has been etching his name in Celtics history books all season long. He did it again Tuesday night while winning an epic, postseason point guard battle.
Wizards guard John Wall tallied 40 points and 13 assists during the Game 2 effort in Boston. It marked just the second such stat line in NBA postseason history, as he joined Russell Westbrook in the elite 40/13 club. Yet, Wall lost Tuesday’s point guard duel, and it wasn’t even close.
Truth be told, Thomas’ career-high 53-point performance completely overshadowed his counterpart’s spectacular effort. Thomas shot 18-of-33 from the field, 5-of-12 from 3-point range and 12-of-13 from the free-throw line. He tallied six fewer assists than Wall, but entirely outshined Washington’s floor general during crunch time.
Thomas scored 29 points during the fourth quarter and overtime to lead the Celtics to a 129-119 win. Wall? He tallied just five points during the fourth quarter and overtime, and missed a potential game-winner, as his Wizards fell into an 0-2 series hole.
“It’s unbelievable,” teammate Al Horford remarked after the win. “Its been a lot of fun just watching [Thomas] work, perform, just making the right plays. It’s hard in the heat of the moment to know when to pass when you got it going like that, when to score, and Isaiah seems so poised every time.”
The circumstances that Thomas was facing made the performance all the more impressive.
The point guard underwent six hours of dental surgery Monday to repair three teeth – two of which were damaged and one of which was completely knocked out during Sunday’s Game 1 win. He then underwent four to five more hours of oral care Tuesday, and according to Brad Stevens, “he was not feeling good at all” before tip-off.
However, Thomas discovered a boost that allowed him hit the court and push past all of his physical pain and discomfort. He tugged on his emotional pain for motivation. Thomas said his will to play and win came from his sister Chyna, who was tragically killed two and a half weeks ago in a car accident in their home state of Washington.
“Today is my sister’s birthday,” Thomas solemnly stated following the game. “She would’ve been 23 today. So the least I could do was go out there and play for her.”
His performance certainly would have made her proud.
Thomas became just the fifth Celtic in franchise history to tally at least 50 points in a playoff game, and finished just one point shy of John Havlicek’s team record of 54.
Breaking records, however, was the last thing on his mind while this extraordinary performance was unfolding.
“I didn’t know I was close to 50,” Thomas admitted. “I was just so locked in that fourth quarter and overtime because I wanted to win the game so bad that I really didn’t know what I had. I just knew that I had to keep being aggressive.”
Washington, and Wall in particular, had been the aggressor for a large portion of the game and led by as many as 14 points during the third quarter. Wall had 35 points through the first three frames, while Thomas had totaled 24.
Then, suddenly, it was Isaiah Time.
Thomas turned up the heat once the fourth quarter began, and not even a Wall could stop him.
“I was playing great defense on him 1-on-1,” said Wall. “Their bigs do a great job of setting screens and then he would just turn the corner and get open.
“I knew he was a great fourth quarter scorer and they go to him a lot,” Wall added. “He has the opportunity to make big shots and that’s what he did tonight.”
Thomas shot 7-of-12 from the field during the fourth quarter and was 4-for-4 during overtime. He displayed no signs of fatigue and no signs of discomfort despite having undergone roughly 11 hours of dental procedures over a 24-hour span, all while harnessing his emotions on his sister’s birthday.
The little guy with the big heart stepped up to the plate and outshined a historic performance from one of the best point guards in the game.
“What else is there to say?” pondered a baffled Stevens after the game.
At this point? Nothing. Thomas’ ability to overcome adversity has no limits. All one can do is sit back and watch, and wait for his next epic exhibit to unfold.