Isaiah Thomas has been a bright spot in the midst of a 2-0 series deficit to the Cavaliers. He's posted identical scoring outbursts of 22 points in each game. The Celtics are scoring 116 points per 100 possessions with him on the court and just 80 without him. Obviously it's a small sample, but that disparity is incredible. Without him, Boston doesn't have much of a chance to win a game, let alone compete in this series. This is a look at some of the creative sets that are helping him succeed.
Isaiah Thomas has had some trouble with longer defenders in his career. Iman Shumpert in particular hassled him in prior meetings this season. But, that hasn't really been the case this postseason. Shumpert is drawing headlines for his struggles defensively. That isn't just on him though, as Boston has made it difficult for players defending Isaiah. The Celtics are creating space for Thomas with their plays. Most of these involve using two players to pick the absolute bejeezus out of Iman Shumpert, or whoever is guarding Thomas.
The Celtics stagger two players on the right half of the court to start. Tyler Zeller and Evan Turner do a nice job to seal off Thomas' defender. This gives Thomas space and downhill momentum to attack Kevin Love. Defense isn't Kevin Love's forte, so this is a great matchup for the Celtics. Thomas slips around him for the layup and the foul. LeBron is either sticking with Jae Crowder in the corner or disinterested in helping. I'm leaning towards the latter, but either way the Celtics benefit from having Thomas one on one against Love.
The set is similar to what the Clippers will run for Chris Paul.
They set up a high double screen, with Evan Turner and Sullinger directly in line. It's almost like a transition play with how far up the court it starts. This allows Thomas to hit the screen with speed from any direction. He misses the shot, but it isn't a bad look. It might actually be a better opportunity for Sullinger if Thomas can fit that pass in between the defenders, but I won't complain about Thomas looking to shoot. Another nice aspect of this play is the chance for offensive rebounds. Sully grabs one here because of how far Mozgov has to go to defend Thomas.
Here is that same basic set, but with a different result.
The high screen is used to force Shumpert off Thomas. Evan Turner doesn't even need to pick him, his movement draws him away by itself. Isaiah then gets matched up with J.R. Smith.
He pulls Smith out the the perimeter and blows by him for the layup. Getting Shumpert to switch with J.R. is an ideal scenario for Boston. The double screen just sets up a better isolation opportunity for Thomas. This is a nice change-up to keep the defense guessing.
It's not just about scoring though. Using the jumbo screen can lead to opportunities for other players as well. Isaiah Thomas commands so much attention that one of the screeners can get lost in the chaos.
On this play, Marcus Smart drops back to the three point line after setting his pick. Dellavedova is still watching Thomas and loses Smart for a second. Thomas has the awareness to find Smart for the open three. As long as Thomas is killing the Cavaliers with his drives, these chances should be there for the Celtics.
Boston has been using some clever sets to create favorable situations for Isaiah Thomas. Frustrating his defender with screens and motion has been working pretty well so far. If the lineup changes like some of us hope, it might open up even more opportunities for the offense. Hopefully Brad Stevens has more up his sleeve for the rest of this series.