In the most important quarter of their season, Brad Stevens elects to keep Isaiah Thomas on the bench
For the entire season, Brad Stevens has received praise from the likes of Greg Popovich, Steve Kerr, Doc Rivers, and most recently Cavs' coach David Blatt.
Many others, from players and media, have acknowledged that the C's have a gem in their second-year coach. When people discuss who the Celts MVP is this year, they don't mention a player, they mention the guy wearing the suit on the sideline.
But in the fourth quarter last night, with his team down 2-0 to LeBron James and the Cavaliers, and facing an eight-point deficit in the final frame, the Celts' coach opted to play his best fourth-quarter scorer, Isaiah Thomas, just 3 minutes and 26 seconds, in the most important 12-minutes of basketball of the season.
Thomas, who averaged 6.2 points per game this season in the fourth, had to watch from the bench as the Celtics scored just 19 points in the frame. All while their instant-offense point guard was sitting in a chair, only getting back onto the floor as the game was already out of reach
I just thought it was an off night. And I thought Evan Turner was terrific in the second half, so just went with that. They’re paying him a lot of attention, and for whatever reason he was having an off night. But that happens. Guys have off nights, and that’s where we’ve got to pick each other up and be better together.
I understand the mindset to keep Turner in the game, who finished with a strong game adding 19 points and eight assists.
But when Avery Bradley entered the game in the fourth, at the 8:56 mark for Thomas, the pint sized sixth-man had just hit a runner off the glass, which could have been the beginning of a hot stretch for the streaky Thomas.
Thomas certainly needed a breather in the fourth, but a quick visit to the bench around the extended TV timeout would have sufficed. Stevens could have taken Bradley out, once Thomas got some rest, keeping the hot-hand of Turner on the floor.
Anyone who reads my work on this site, recognizes that I am a huge fan of Bradley, but even I can admit that he is having a terrible series. Thursday was no different, when he went 7-for-18 from the floor, including 1-for-3 in the fourth.
You could argue that Bradley's defense was the main reason he was out there instead of Thomas. But if Stevens needed a good mix of offense and defense, why was Marcus Smart also a spectator in crunch time?
At the end of the day, I realize that like many of his players, this is Stevens' first playoff series, and mistakes will happen.
Playing Thomas in the fourth wouldn't have helped grab any of those offensive rebounds, the Celtics so badly needed. But I'm willing to bet that deep down, the C's coach is kicking himself for not calling Thomas' number more in the final quarter, as the season slipped away.