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The Read & React: Thomas o’clock

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In their biggest win of the season, Isaiah Thomas dominated the 4th quarter (AGAIN), but it was the young core of Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier that fueled the comeback.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

All the King’s horses and all the King’s men (Lachlan Marr): The King in the Fourth delivered again, and Isaiah’s effort throughout this important game was simply spectacular. Yet for me this game will always be known as the night Zeller got his groove back.

It was a night when the bench stepped up for the Celtics, after the starters had a lacklustre beginning to the game it was up to the bench to provide a lift, and a few of the Celtics’ role players did exactly that.

Terry Rozier saw some extra minutes in this matchup and earned every moment he was on the floor. While he didn’t impact the box score as much as he could have, he hounded and harassed on defense and prodded and searched on offense, bringing energy and what Stevens described as “youthful bounce” to the team.

Jonas Jerebko also added some energy to the Celtics rotations. Again, while his numbers don’t look great, he did come out with effort and tenacity when he was on the court, quietly impacting the game in ways that matter.

Tyler Zeller went into his own version of beast mode in this one. His numbers look even less impressive than those of Rozier or Jerebko, but he provided big-time plays at crucial moments during this matchup. While one of his Godzeller dunks was waved off due to a foul, he did manage a reverse dunk shortly thereafter, and it got the TD Garden rocking. He also managed a monster block and pulled down 5 rebounds in 16 minutes.

In the end it was Isaiah who saved the Celtics from being mauled by the Raptors, but as Stevens explains, sometimes it’s all the little things that help the Little Guy get the win.

Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Pick your poison (Bill Sy): This felt like a playoff game. Despite it only being February 1st and having key players sitting out with nagging injuries, this was an intense regular-season game that was at times rough and physical. With 8:28 left in the third, the Celtics were down 18 points. Some of that deficit resulted from missing shots and making bad turnovers, but a lot of it was just an inability to match Toronto’s aggressiveness, particularly on the defensive end.

Without DeMar DeRozan to shoulder the scoring burden, the Raptors were very aggressive in the pick-and-roll. Instead of coming off screens and taking an open shot, they attacked the retreating bigs and drove it to the rim. After a close game against the Pistons on Monday night, I wrote about how Boston’s defensive scheme dares teams to shoot the 15-footer. Without their best mid-range scorer, Toronto forced the issue and got into the teeth of the defense.

Here’s an example:

Al Horford isn’t particularly long (and Amir Johnson isn’t particularly quick), so if a guard could lose their defender above the break, they’d go downhill on a big on his heels. Here’s another later in the game:

But in the 4th quarter, Boston adjusted their PnR coverage. Jeff’s got great video on one of the crucial possessions late in the quarter below. Instead of the big (Al Horford in that example) ICEing the roll and retreating, the Celtics were more aggressive and showed/hedged to cut off the drive or force the ball handler to pick up their dribble. My guess is that Stevens would rather not do this because it generates a lot of open looks for shooters with teams scrambling to help and recover on the perimeter, but last night, it did neutralize Toronto’s attack enough to pull off a fourth-quarter comeback.

Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

More than words (Keith P. Smith): When you truly fall in love you don't overlook the person's faults. You don't ignore them. You embrace the person because of who they are. You know the the faults are part of what makes them that much more special. When that person tries to overcome those faults but isn't able to for whatever reason, you don't drop them. You stick with them. When they do different things to make up for the things they can't do, you love them that much more for it. When they do those different things at a level you could never imagine, you fall even deeper in love with them.

I love Isaiah Thomas. Not in spite of his faults, but because of them. He's small and he can't defend for a lick. But he does try. More importantly, he knows he he'll never be a difference maker on defense. So, he makes up for it in spades on the other end. This isn't some guy who can't defend and gives a good effort on offense. He's a superior offensive player by any measure and his work in the fourth quarter is other-worldly.

The Celtics wouldn't be nearly as good without Isaiah Thomas. More importantly they wouldn't be nearly as lovable or as fun. For that, I love Isaiah Thomas and I'll ride into battle with The King In The Fourth any day.

Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The (slightly bigger) Little Guy (Jeff Nooney): Isaiah Thomas was unbelievable, and at times it seemed like he did everything on the court. But Marcus Smart had a clutch fourth quarter of his own, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. Apart from a missed gamble or two, his perimeter defense was excellent. This possession is a great example of that.

Smart stays on Lowry’s hip the entire time and keeps him from driving to the basket. He barrels through some tough screens and then forces Lowry into an impossible shot. The Raptors got bailed on that goofy 24-second call, but that type of effort shows how valuable Smart was all night. That’s not to mention the crunch time jump-ball he won after fighting the entire Raptors team for a rebound. That allowed the Celtics to go up by four points with just 10 seconds left. Isaiah’s scoring heroics kept the Celtics in the game, and Smart’s hustle helped put them over the top.

Zeller to the rescue (Bill Sy): TZ didn’t have a particularly great game statistically, but these two plays in the 4th quarter gave the team so much momentum:

Smart finds Zeller for the reverse jam!

A video posted by Boston Celtics (@celtics) on

Zeller finds Jaylen for the emphatic jam!

A video posted by Boston Celtics (@celtics) on

Zeller along with Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko are attractive trade assets heading into the deadline because of their expiring contracts, and nobody knows what’s going to happen, but it’s great to see Zeller healthy again and playing well. I’ve always felt that he was extremely underrated and if he can somehow remain in green, I think he’s primed for a big role late in the season and into the playoffs.