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The Read & React: anatomy of the Isaiah Thomas game winner

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Isaiah Thomas scored a season high 37 points, but there were none more important than his final two to win in Philadelphia.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens, ATO God (Bill Sy): I was (maybe unfairly) critical of Brad Stevens’ ATO’s against the Pelicans a few weeks ago, but tonight’s game winner from Isaiah Thomas was simple and elegant. What I’ve always marveled about Stevens is his ability to not only take into account momentum, space, size, and speed, but also account for field of vision and maybe even player psyche.

With the game tied 100-100, Stevens went to a familiar set: Thomas on the other side of half court and his teammates setting up for a screen at the free throw line. But even pre-inbound, there’s some trickeration.

I’m not sure if it was deliberate or not, but see Jae Crowder directing Avery Bradley to move out of the corner to the restricted area under the basket? It’s a savvy bluff. It keeps Okafor and Saric thinking, “we have to be aware of a back screen or a lob.” By planting those seeds of doubt, you’ve got everybody worried.

So here’s how the Celtics literally lined up before referee Kevin Cutler handed Marcus Smart the ball. Again, Stevens is an artist and he paints on a wide canvas. He’ll not only have Thomas coming to the ball like a receiver in motion before the snap, but he can dictate who Thomas will be driving against.

Crowder uses the Horford screen, forces the switch between Okafor and Saric, and flares to the near side corner, taking Okafor with him. That’s important because 1) if Thomas has trouble on the drive, he can kick it out Crowder and he’ll have the speed advantage over Okafor and 2) it leaves Boston’s best screen setter in Horford to set a pick on the smaller Stauskas.

Here’s a subtle thing but very important: Horford motions towards the ball and Thomas starts running towards the far side of the court. It keeps everybody’s eyes on Smart because it looks like Horford will receive the pass, but that misdirection allows Thomas to get the ball on the left side of the court and ultimately, a lane to drive with his strong side hand.

He had beaten Saric earlier in the game with this double hesitation crossover:

My guess is that Saric had that on his mind when he went one-one-one with Thomas and anticipated another crossover that never came as Thomas danced around him for a lay up.

Quick hits from a near disaster (Keith P. Smith): Losing to Philadelphia would have a been a disaster for the Celtics. Fortunately they have Isaiah Thomas to thank for carrying them to a win. As the roster stands right now, Thomas is the lone player who can consistently create his own offense. Al Horford is great, but he needs someone to get him the ball in the right spot. Avery Bradley, for all his improvement, still is a better of set plays or spotting up. Jae Crowder is probably the next best player at creating offense, but he's far from great at it. And the young players are too inconsistent. This is where the loss of Evan Turner shows up most. Boston relied on Turner to help close out games alongside IT. This year, they're having to search a bit more and rely on The Little Guy to provide the answers.

On another topic: Amir Johnson has taken his fair share of heat lately, and deservedly so, but he's playing one really important role for Boston. Johnson's presence in the starting unit puts him on the opponent's center. This allows Al Horford to roam some and contribute help defense. It also keeps Horford fresh, by not having to bang inside all game, and out of foul trouble. Johnson might not be a lot of things, but sometimes you have to appreciate a guy for what he can do vs worrying about what he can't do.

Finally, it won't show up in the stat sheet, but these were easily the best minutes Jaylen Brown has played since the Cleveland game. One could even argue they were better than the ones he put up vs the Cavs because Brown played hard on both ends. All the Celtics need from him is to be aggressive on both ends. Get up into people on defense and use his strength and quickness to force turnovers. On offense, he just needs to run and attack the rim. Flashes were there tonight of what Brown could be and that would go a long way towards solidifying the backup spot behind Crowder.

On to Houston: