No doubting Thomas' qualities

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas is thwarted under the basket by Chicago Bulls forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis during the 104-95 Game Four victory.
Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas is thwarted under the basket by Chicago Bulls forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis during the 104-95 Game Four victory.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Boston guard the key performer in tying series against Bulls, after family tragedy

CHICAGO • Given the week Isaiah Thomas endured, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens struggled to explain how his star guard managed to elevate his game the way he did against the Chicago Bulls.

On Sunday - eight days after his sister was killed in a car accident - Thomas rose once more with 33 points and seven assists as the Celtics drew even in their NBA Eastern Conference first-round play-off series with a 104-95 victory.

The best-of-seven series - tied at two games apiece - resumes tomorrow in Boston.

The Celtics have now won two games in a row after falling behind in the series with back-to-back home losses.

Thomas has been a major reason for the comeback.

"What he's been through in the day-to-day is unfathomable the way he has performed on the court," Stevens said. "It's been really incredible."

DEFENDING HIMSELF

That's not the reason I'm an impossible cover.

ISAIAH THOMAS, Celtics guard, on Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg's claim that he is tough to guard because he often gets away with illegal dribbling.

Either by scoring or with an assist, Thomas helped account for every point of a 12-0 run the Celtics produced in the third quarter after the Bulls took a 65-63 lead.

Chicago, who were led by Jimmy Butler's 33 points, erased a 20-point deficit and took their first lead of the game with 4:35 remaining in the third quarter.

But that was when Thomas sparked the offensive surge that pushed the Celtics back to a double-figure lead, and they maintained their advantage the rest of the way.

No matter which defender the Bulls threw at him, Thomas - who re-entered the game in the third quarter with four personal fouls - could not be stopped.

"I just try to play the same way no matter who's out there on the floor (defensively)," he said. "I have a job to do, and that's to score the basketball, make plays for others and be the leader."

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, however, took exception to Thomas' offensive style and claimed that he regularly gets away with carrying the basketball.

"He had a hell of a game. But when you're allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he's impossible to guard," Hoiberg said."

Thomas responded: "That's not the reason I'm an impossible cover. I guess (Hoiberg) is just going to continue to say it. I've been dribbling that way my whole life."

As good as he was, Thomas had plenty of help.

Gerald Green scored a play-off career-high 18 points and Al Horford finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics.

The Bulls - despite Butler's effort, which included nine assists - continued to struggle offensively without injured point guard Rajon Rondo.

Nikola Mirotic scored 13 points for Chicago, who also got 13 points from reserve guard Isaiah Canaan and 11 from Dwyane Wade.

The Bulls made a third-quarter push for the second consecutive game, but fell short again, leaving the home team winless in the series.

Butler said in each of the past two games, he and his team-mates used a lot of effort trying to climb out of a 20-point hole.

"We don't come out with any energy in the first quarter," Butler said. "If we start playing at the start of the game like we do to get out of the hole, we'd probably be up (in the series.)"

In Indianapolis, LeBron James scored 33 points, including the go-ahead three-pointer with 1:08 remaining, as the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Indiana Pacers 106-102 on Sunday, completing a four-game sweep in the opening-round series.

For James, it was his 21st consecutive first-round play-off game victory, breaking Magic Johnson's record of 20 set in the mid-1980s.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2017, with the headline 'No doubting Thomas' qualities'. Print Edition | Subscribe