Slowing Down IT
With the Washington Wizards’ 121-102 win yesterday, the series between the Wizards and the Boston Celtics is evened up at two games apiece. The Wizards showed resolve in battling back to tie up the series after losing the first two on the road. One of the great stories during this year’s playoffs, Boston’s star point guard, Isaiah Thomas, who is dealing with physical and emotional issues, dropped in 53 points in a May 2nd win. Through it all, Thomas is boasting an impressive stat line of 28.5 points a game to pair with shooting 46% from the field.
Those stats don’t tell the story of the past two games, both Boston defeats. Getting blown out on Wednesday to the tune of 116-89, Thomas had his worst game of the series in shooting only 3-8 from the field for a disappointing 13-point night. In yesterday’s contest, Thomas again struggled, contributing only 19 points in the loss in addition to not getting to the charity stripe once.
Taking a look at Boston’s roster and not seeing notable offensive names besides Thomas in the lineup, you have to assume it’s going to take a supreme effort by the guard to carry his team on any given night. How has Washington made life difficult for Boston and Thomas lately? Let’s take a look.
Getting out in front
Thomas has been magical in the fourth quarter of many games this year. If this were baseball, Thomas has to be considered one of the great closers in the game, showing the ability to will his team to a victory late. Despite his small stature, you have to be concerned if the contest is close and see Thomas with the ball in his hands.
That being said, Thomas hasn’t had the same impact on the game if it’s a blowout like these last two games have been. Its equal parts easy and complicated, if you can get a sizable lead against Boston, it goes a long way to dulling the effect Thomas has on the outcome. Even though Thomas has had some herculean efforts in the fourth quarter to pull games out of the fire, you have to assume doing it against a good team in the Wizards is a different issue.
Make him a distributor
Thomas reminds me of another small, scoring point guard who excelled late in games in Earl Boykins. Like Thomas, Boykins caused plenty of headaches when he came off the bench towards the end of the game and started filling up the basket. Whether it was a combination in coming into matchups rested versus tired defensive legs or just having a special intangible like Thomas, Boykins excelled with the game on the line.
How do you slow someone down who thrives on the late-game pressure? It’s not as simple as it sounds, but you make him distribute the basketball. Who leads Boston in assists right now? If you were to say Thomas you’re wrong, as center Al Horford is the leader in the clubhouse at 6.0 assists per game to Thomas’s 5.6. In fact, in yesterday’s loss, Thomas had more turnovers (6) than he had assists (5). For all his ball-handling prowess and the ability to get into the lane to either score the basketball or get the line, if you make him give up the ball, it goes a long way in dictating how the Celtics will go on a given day as seen by his assist average dip to just 4.3 a game in defeats.
Attack his body
There is a fine line between being dirty and playing physical defense. Despite his claims that the refs are being too liberal in swallowing their whistles the past two games, Thomas is being limited in the amount of shots he’s taking and it’s showing in his frustrations.
The next game that Thomas plays in will be the most he’s played in his career. While still in the prime of his career, the point guard is far from a spring chicken at 28 years old. In also taking into account that he’s playing starter’s minutes for much of the past two season and as well as his size, the strain of many minutes played could be taking their toll.
Boston will be fortunate to be able to play the final two out of three games of the series at home where they have played markedly better than on the road. If they are able to foil the Wizards and reach the Eastern Conference Finals, they will need their star point guard to turn it up a notch from his usual spectacular play to get them past Washington.