IT is laughing in the face of physics (Jared Weiss):
There are all sorts of terms I remember learning in ninth-grade physics class in between naps and writing 80085 in my TI-83. Momentum, inertia, escape velocity—Isaiah Thomas seems to have disproved all these theories. His movement on the court mimics a plastic bag in a tornado. He changes direction on drives like there is an invisible trampoline sitting on the free throw line. He pulls up for game-winners like he is hanging from a bungee chord in the rafters.
Isaiah Thomas. Cold-blooded. pic.twitter.com/bG7vZA5JBV— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 14, 2017
He replaced his ABS brakes for some IT4 stoppers. Isaiah is an evil experiment by the McLaren Corporation to convert the P1 into a sentient human being. It's working. He is an emerging MVP candidate who is getting serious consideration for starting the All-Star game in the first year ever where the voting is being legitimized with player and media participation.
Of the 28 players with at least 200 pick-and-roll ball handler possessions, IT leads the league in efficiency with 1.114 points per possession, according to Synergy. On iso drives, including pull-up jumpers like the one he hit to beat Atlanta, Thomas leads the league in efficiency at 1.34 PPP. He gets to the line at a rate comparable to James Harden, who is considered a cheat code for the rate at which he draws fouls.
His dramatic improvement as a shooter has helped the Celtics go off on a historic tear, hitting 17 threes in six of their last seven games. Not only was this previously the franchise record for threes in a game, but it is now the only time in NBA history a team has hit that mark at this rate of frequency along with this year’s Houston Rockets. The Celtics hit more threes than twos Friday for the second time in franchise history, after doing it last month on December 9 against the Raptors.
Friday's performance on ESPN may have been the little push he needed to take the lead in the race for an All-Star start. It's primarily due to his fourth-quarter dominance, where he has been on his own tier as the best fourth quarter scorer in the league. He had 13 Friday night in the final period, including a flurry of buckets in the final few minutes that culminated with a dagger three and the absurd step-back game-winner.
"Usually you call a timeout in that situation," coach Brad Stevens told reporters in Atlanta after the win. "But [Isaiah] waved it off. so I was like, 'Alright, go win the game.'"
"[Brad] trusts me," Thomas told reporters. "And at the end, he said it was a hell of a shot."
Stevens had called a pick-and-roll for the final play, something that has been extremely difficult to stop when Thomas and Al Horford are involved. But Thomas liked the iso matchup on Kent Bazemore and waved it off.
"Bazemore had that look in his face like he was going to get a stop," Thomas said. "I had other plans."
IT Continues to Surprise (Jeff Nooney): Isaiah Thomas is playing out of his mind right now. He's gone from being an All-Star to a superstar. You can't say enough about his unique offensive game. But he's even finding ways to reimagine some old classics. First he channels Bird on those incredible rebound-your-own-miss buckets against the Wizards. Then tonight he nails the game-winner on a step-back jumper from the right elbow like Pierce. What's he going to unveil next, a set of devastating post moves from McHale's book? Either way, it's been fun to see flashes of old Celtics legends in Isaiah's game. And given his performance this year, he might just be on the way to becoming one himself.
IT inspires (Keith P. Smith): A rare personal note here: I have a six-year-old daughter who is just starting to play basketball. Because of that, she has started to watch games until it is her bedtime. Obviously, despite living in Orlando, I've raised her right as a Celtics fan. And her guy is Isaiah Thomas. In her words: "He is so impressive because he's so small and that inspires little people like me to play because maybe we can score baskets too." She'll wake up in the morning and one of her first questions will be "Did the Celtics win?" followed by "How many points did Isaiah get?" I cherish these moments, especially when I can tell her they did win and IT won the game for them.
Out of the mouths of babes as they say. On a night when the Celtics had seen yet another big lead slip away, they needed their little guy to carry them home, and he delivered. Boy did he ever deliver. Entering the Hawks game, his fourth-quarter/overtime PER was 41.9, the highest mark in 20 seasons. He also leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring and about 10 other ridiculous stats for measuring clutch play too. But you don't even need them. Just watch the games and witness his drive to take over and lead the Cs home. Whether it is going to the basket over and over or drilling triples, you have this feeling that IT will get it done every single time.
So, get out there and #NBAVote the heck out of him. Chant MVP if you want. And enjoy the ride, because there isn't another player in the league like him, and we're fortunate to have him. But for me, it is more than just watching his nightly magic. It is that fact that he inspired my favorite person in the world to play and get interested in the game I love. And for that, I can't thank IT enough.
Truth redux (Bill Sy): The only thing missing was Marcus Smart climbing onto IT4’s back.
Klynyk'd (Bobby Manning): On Thomas: through all the amazing things he's done these last two years, he had never drilled his big shot with the clock running down. Of course when it finally happened, it came as part of his historic run he's been on since his injury.
On the other hand, I sort of wish it didn't get that close, and crazily enough a big reason it did was the play of one Kelly Olynyk. It was his best game of the season, and he finally cashed in on his wide-open 3PA and was crafty in creating around the paint while pulling in a more-than-respectable eight rebounds. But that positive turned into a negative.
In a rare event, Brad Stevens let a fast one get by him from Mike Budenholzer, who went small late in the fourth quarter seemingly to attack Olynyk with Millsap at the five surrounded by quick shooters. The shift got Atlanta back into the game, and while Olynyk was getting abused defensively, he stayed out there.
Big credit goes to Tim Hardaway Jr. as well for hitting some absurd shots, but the matchups put in place by ATL's coach even in a loss (thanks Isaiah) were worth noting. Those Hawks still have some fight and great coaching in them.
Can we talk about KO again? (Lachlan Marr): IT continues to be the King in the Fourth, however for my own reasons I wanted to highlight KO’s great performance in this game.
So in this read-and-react section a couple of games ago (against Toronto) I said some harsh things about one Kelly Olynyk. Now I’m not walking back what I said, as I believe it still stands. I haven’t seen a lot I’ve liked from KO this season, and a lot of the time when he has been on the court he seemed to lack effort.
That was not the case in this game.
This was the Kelly Olynyk I wanted to see all season, the Kelly Olynyk I thought I saw glimpses of last season and was hoping would emerge as a legitimate rotation player sooner rather than later. He was present, he was confident, he was communicating and best of all I didn’t see him lying on the floor appealing for a call instead of getting back to his feet during the fourth quarter once.
This is one of those times I’m actually glad to eat my words, because if this Kelly Olynyk can show up regularly then he will more than earn his minutes, and the Celtics will be a better team for it. So here’s hoping he can keep it up. Because ultimately even Kelly’s harshest critics don’t want to see him fail—well, I certainly don’t—but what I would like to see is this level of effort on a consistent basis. If that happens, then KO will silence those who say he isn’t tough enough. In fact, if KO is looking for advice on how to silence his critics he can always speak to IT, who’ll be quick tell him the best way to prove yourself is on the court.