Isaiah Thomas did not back down against the Cleveland Cavaliers in his playoff debut Sunday.
The crafty point guard posted the first double-double of his career in green, scoring 22 points and dishing out 10 assists in 32 minutes of action off the bench. That stat line made Thomas one of the few Game 1 bright spots for Boston in a 113-100 loss. Disappointing efforts from the rest of the Celtics’ backcourt loomed just as large as Thomas’ standout performance in the defeat.
Offensively, Evan Turner and Avery Bradley combined to connect on a mere 7-of-22 shots from the field, resulting in just 19 points. LeBron James played lockdown defense against Turner, giving the swingman little opportunity to be the shot creator that coach Brad Stevens relies on him to be.
Meanwhile, Bradley failed to find any rhythm in Boston’s halfcourt sets. He mustered just two points in the first three quarters, on 1-of-6 shooting, as the Celtics fell into a double-digit hole they were unable to recover from.
Defensively, things didn’t get much better for either player. Both were toasted by Kyrie Irving at various times throughout his 30-point performance, capped by a crucial 3-point buzzer-beater at halftime by the Cavs’ point guard.
While Bradley and Turner strugglint, Thomas contributed his fair share of miscues as well. His five turnovers were a team-high for Boston. A couple of those stemmed from ill-advised decisions that led to easy points on the other end for the Cavs. The fourth-year guard was accountable for those mistakes after the game.
“One thing we’ve got to do is cut down on our turnovers,” Thomas told reporters in Cleveland. “If we cut down on those, we give ourselves a chance to score each and every time down. We had some key turnovers in that third quarter, too, where they got out and running and got easy baskets. One thing about that team, they’re very talented. On top of that, they were making tough shots. You can’t give them easy baskets.”
Still, as he has over past two months, Thomas proved his worth as the best Celtic on the court on Sunday afternoon. He was a team best plus-5 in plus/minus, watching helplessly as the Cavs outscored his teammates by 18 points in the 16 minutes he spent on the Celtics bench.
With top stars like James (40 minutes) and Irving (42 minutes) playing heavy minutes for Cleveland coach David Blatt, Stevens is going to have to take a look long at how he manages his rotation minutes moving forward. If the Celtics want to have a chance in this series, they need to keep pace with Cleveland’s offensive firepower, and Thomas may need to be on the floor more for that to happen.
On the flip side, Stevens can’t rely on players like Turner (team-worst minus-18 in plus/minus for Game 1) for major minutes if they don’t have things going on the offensive end. With the amount of depth that Boston has in its second unit, Stevens needs to turn elsewhere for a spark if starters are not keeping pace with the opposition.
The good news heading into Game 2 for Boston is that even though the Celtics don’t have an answer for Irving or LeBron, the same bodes true for the Cavs’ in defending Thomas. Now it’s up to Stevens to increase his workload and find the right pieces to put around Thomas to help Boston bounce back on Tuesday.