BOSTON – “How do you defend Isaiah Thomas?”
Hardly a game goes by when that question isn’t posed to a coach facing the Boston Celtics.
The query often garners a shrug of the shoulders or a flabbergasted chortle. Sometimes it results in a comical response, such as when Memphis coach David Fizdale humorously suggested the only way to stop the All-Star point guard is to “tackle him.”
In other words, no opposing coach has been able to figure out how Thomas is able to slice through defenders and drive to the basket at will. Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, however, believes he has found the answer.
After Thomas lit up the Bulls for 33 points during Sunday night’s Game 4 win, a frustrated Hoiberg took the podium and claimed that Thomas illegally carries the ball – and gets away with it – on a consistent basis.
“When you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he’s impossible to guard,” Hoiberg stated following the game, after eloquently praising IT’s level of play. “When you’re able to put your hand under the ball and take two or three steps and put it back down, it’s impossible to guard in those situations.”
What Hoiberg was referring to is Thomas’ hesitation dribble that allows him to create separation from the defense. The shifty guard will often change speeds en route to the basket, slowing down and quickly cradling the ball before exploding to rim while leaving his defender in the dust.
Thomas has perfected this move over the years. He’s never heard a complaint about it in the past, so Hoiberg’s comments left him chuckling in bewilderment.
“That’s not the reason I’m an impossible cover,” he said. “I guess he is just going to continue to say it. I’ve been dribbling that way my whole life. I don’t know what to say to that. I don’t think I’ve been called for it one time this year, so I don’t think that will change.”
The comments left Celtics coach Brad Stevens puzzled as well. He stated Monday afternoon that he respectfully disagrees with Hoiberg’s allegations and offered an alternative explanation for why Thomas is so difficult to defend.
“I think there’s a reason why the best scorers are really hard to guard, and in Isaiah’s case, it’s not any different than some of the other better scorers,” said Stevens. “He’s just got a tremendously high skill level, a tremendous change of pace, and he’s just a hard guy to guard. He’s a hard guy to keep in front of.”
That’s the answer that most coaches provide when asked, “How do you defend Isaiah Thomas?”
There is no solution yet, and there is not one single move that he uses on “every possession” that enables him to carve up opposing defenses.
Thomas is simply an offensive superstar with an arsenal of shifty maneuvers that constantly keeps the opposition guessing.
So, how do you defend Isaiah Thomas?
Chicago is just the most recent team to be desperately searching for the answer.