Celtics Need Others Surrounding Isaiah Thomas To Step Up

March 6, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) moves to the basket past Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) and guard Raymond Felton (2) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
March 6, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) moves to the basket past Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) and guard Raymond Felton (2) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite Isaiah Thomas dropping 31 points, the Celtics dropped their second consecutive game on Monday night.

Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas sounded off to the media following Monday night’s 116-102 beatdown at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers, shaming head coach Brad Stevens for “experimenting” with unforeseen lineup arrangements in the second half of the contest.

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While Stevens may have dedicated a little too much time to the combination of Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and James Young in the midst of a 63-38 Los Angeles spurt in the final 16 minutes of the contest, Thomas should not be angered at Stevens’ actions. Rather, it should be the performance of his teammates that should leave a sour taste in Thomas’ mouth. This is the reason why Stevens was forced to tamper with fresh lineups over the course of the second half. The Celtics just could not find a groove offensively outside of Thomas. With this being the case, you cannot blame Stevens for attempting to invigorate some offensive spirit within his team by toying with different lineups.

Despite a ferocious defensive approach by Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, Thomas obliterated the Clippers defense to the tune of 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field, 4-for-8 efficiency from three-point range, and 8-for-9 accuracy from the free throw line. Outside of rookie Jaylen Brown, who enjoyed a 3-for-5 night from the field, Thomas was the only Boston option to shoot over 50 percent from the field.

Thomas simply could not garner any assistance from outside the arc. When Los Angeles would opt to double team him after he received an on-ball screen, Thomas’ first instinct led him to flip the ball to an open shooter on the perimeter. If these shots fall, the Celtics emerge victorious in a heartbeat. However, Thomas’ supporting cast shot a lowly 6-for-27 from deep, dooming the team and sentencing them to their second string of consecutive losses in as many weeks.

Small forward Jae Crowder butchered a plethora of open looks, shooting 3-of-13 from the field and 1-of-7 from long range. The aforementioned trio of Smart, Rozier, and Young was downright abysmal from outside, shooting a combined 3-for-13. Center Kelly Olynyk missed both of his three-point attempts as well, pitching another underwhelming effort in 20 minutes of playing time.

Entering the postseason, the defensive pressure placed on Thomas will only multiply. Teams will be hellbent on putting Thomas in the most uncomfortable positions possible while forcing him to relinquish the rock. In the 2016 postseason, we witnessed this tactic deployed by the Atlanta Hawks. Mike Budenholzer’s squad double teamed Thomas after the majority of the screens he received, forcing him to put up a contested three-pointer or flip the ball to a teammate on the majority of occasions.

When Thomas was denied a lane to the basket and coaxed into giving up the ball, his teammates failed to deliver. Crowder shot a dismal 27.8 percent from the field and 24.4 percent from three-point range in six games, Smart shot 36.7 percent from the field, and Rozier shot below 40 percent as well. In contests such as Game 2 and Game 5 in which Thomas shot a combined 7-for-27, a victory was essentially wiped off of the table.

In order for the Celtics to avoid a similar fate in the first round of the playoffs this spring, the likes of Crowder, Brown, and Smart will have to support the second-leading scorer in the NBA with consistent outside shooting. Crowder has eclipsed the 40 percent milestone from beyond the arc for the first time in his career while Smart displayed his ability to become a serviceable three-point shooter in January, hitting 36.7 percent of his threes.

Returning Avery Bradley to the lineup will provide Thomas with some added fortitude on the offensive front, however, his capability of remaining in the lineup has been reasonably questioned due to his extensive injury history. If the Celtics managed to hold off the Washington Wizards and garner the second seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the postseason, there is a considerable chance that they run into the Chicago Bulls or the Miami Heat in the seventh spot.

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With Jimmy Butler piloting the Bulls defensive front and the Heat holding a 103.9 defensive rating, the sixth-best in the NBA, both of these squads have the means necessary to apply a surplus of pressure on Thomas in the backcourt. If Boston even wishes to escape the first round, surrounding Thomas with 6-of-27 shooting from three-point range will not satisfy the criteria.