BOSTON – Steal would be a generous word. It was more like handoff.
As Evan Turner ran away with the ball that Michael Carter-Williams was kind enough to toss to him at the top of the key, the Bucks watched another chance to close the gap run away.
MCW fumbled it again a couple minutes later, with a red hot Isaiah Thomas eventually getting the ball and draining a dagger from three over Khris Middleton.
The Celtics beat the Bucks 112-107 despite key players surviving foul trouble and starting the game 2/18 from three.
Credit Jabari Parker for making it a contest, as he took advantage of Jae Crowder’s five fouls and took over the paint in the late fourth quarter. Parker scored eight points at the rim in a row to bring the Bucks within five with five minutes left. But Isaiah Thomas responded with seven points to help bring the Celtics’ lead back to 11 points.
The Bucks forced a pair of turnovers and came roaring back, cutting down the deficit to four points and forcing a Brad Stevens timeout with 1:12 left.
The Celtics looked like they were going to throw up a prayer coming out of the timeout and that’s exactly what happened. But BAE Crowder answered that prayer.
Isaiah Thomas threw a slew of crossovers, drove left and was met with too many bodies to handle. So naturally, he threw a blind behind-the-head pass to Crowder in the opposite corner. The pass was somehow on the money and Crowder somehow drilled the corner three.
"I seen him before I threw it." Thomas claimed. "But when I threw it, I couldn’t see him no more, so I’m glad he stayed in that corner and made me look good. It’s just something, I made an adjustment, like I said before I picked the ball up, I had seen he was in the corner. So I knew that was going to be my bail-out pass. Then luckily he stayed in the corner and it got there."The
Bucks had one final chance to get back in, but Marcus Smart skied for the rebound over Greg Monroe to seal the game.
AMIR THE POINT CENTER
In the first quarter, Stevens threw out one of the wrinkles he references pre-game, using Amir Johnson as the primary facilitator. The Celtics opened up a nice lead over the second half of the first quarter by running pick-and-rolls that would position the point guard on the elbow and Amir rolling down the strong-side lane.
As Johnson would catch the ball, he would immediately turn and fling it to a shooter or cutter coming in weak-side. The cutter, whether it be Crowder, Bradley, or Jerebko, were able to get a clean shot or draw a foul with ease. The Celtics ended up going on a 21-10 run in the last five minutes of the quarter. Johnson finished the first with nine points and seven rebounds while Crowder scored 14 points.
"We definitely worked on that because Milwaukee is a team that likes to over-help," Johnson said. "Our goal was to dive off the pick-and-roll fast and if they came over to rotate, swing to the corner. It definitely worked for us."
In the second quarter, Stevens had Johnson hide on the weak-side baseline in a typical center position. When a ball-handler would come crashing in from the weak-side wing and move the defensive center of gravity to the middle of the paint, Johnson would sneak to the rim all alone.
Evan Turner found him for a nice wraparound pass as Johnson stumbled in a layup to keep the Celtics up to a double digit lead as the half neared a close. Johnson finished the half with 13 points and eight rebounds but had a marginal impact in the second half.
"Like I said, they over-help," Johnson said. "As long as I stayed behind the defense, behind those long arms those players have, I was able to get open shots."
Amir’s effect was infectious, as the outscored the Bucks on the break 18-8 in the first half.
"That’s the Amir we need," Thomas said. "A guy that just brings energy, stays on the boards, and makes shots around the rim like he did tonight. He had a hell of a game. He started us off well."
Just before the half, Evan Turner found Amir Johnson who pirouetted his way to the hoop for this sweet bucket: pic.twitter.com/84fJOvVapk— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 26, 2016
ISAIAH THOMAS ENJOYING THE RECOGNITION
He’s always had that chip on his shoulder. Just ask anyone. Since he was doubted in high school for being too small. To going last in the draft despite a few promises earlier in the draft. To being traded by the Phoenix Suns for a draft pick and a player that had no future in the desert.
But then he became the Celtics’ centerpiece. Then he made the All-Star team. Then Thursday, his former GM admitted regretting the trade that sent Thomas to Boston.
"I think in retrospect trading Isaiah Thomas when we did was a mistake," said Ryan McDonough, the Suns GM and former Assistant GM with the Celtics. "I think sometimes in the recruitment process things sound better in July (luring Thomas in free agency) than they do in November.
"He wanted more, he wanted a bigger role and I understand why: He’s a talented player," McDonough said. "In retrospect, we should have carried him into the summer. If there’s one (decision) that stands out, if I could get a mulligan, that’d be it."
When asked about if he heard the confession, Isaiah looked down at his feet and smiled.
"Yeah, [I] did," Thomas said. "I mean it’s cool. I’m starting to get more and more respect, I guess. It feels good to hear him finally say that. But like I always say, I’m focused here on the Celtics. I’m not focused on what happened in the past. When I saw that this morning, it was nice to see somebody say something like that."
The bitterness over the situation souring is still in the air with Thomas, but he is looking forward and enjoying his current success.
"I’ve always felt overlooked," Thomas said. "Ever since All-Star selection, guys are kind of liking what I do, I guess."
So is that chip still there with all the success and all the detractors declaring a mea culpa?
"Yeah, my next goal is that I want to be All-NBA. I always try to find things to motivate me. I’m a goal-orientated guy who tries to reach all of the goals. That’s my next step."
With these incredible finishes for Thomas becoming more of the rule than the exception, he may need to find another chip when the All-NBA teams are announced.