Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas is rapidly becoming one of the NBA’s most feared weapons in the fourth quarter.
After posting a career-high 44 points in the Boston Celtics‘ come-from-behind shocker of a victory against the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night, Isaiah Thomas had three words to describe the motive for his expectation-shattering performance.
“I’m a killer.”
Now, the man who NBA Hall of Fame inductee Allen Iverson bestowed the torch to in order to uphold the pantheon of sub-6’0″ scoring point guards is quickly destroying the stigma that surrounded him when he was drafted with the 60th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Thomas’ name is being thrown around with the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry in contention for a nod to the Eastern Conference All-Star team starting lineup while becoming one of best fourth-quarter performers in the NBA.
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Since Thomas returned from a groin injury in which Boston suffered through a three-game losing skid, he is shooting a scintillating 51.6 percent from the field while posting 31.0 points and 6.8 assists per game. His value to the team is unmatched, as his usage rate has skyrocketed to a career high 33.3 percent while his efficiency rating has ballooned at a comparable rate, soaring to 26.15 from 21.5 in his inaugural All-Star season of 2015-16.
Thomas is performing at a rate that no Celtics player has in decades. If he continues his 27.0 points per game pace, he will become the first Boston athlete since Larry Bird recorded 29.0 per outing in 1987-88 to average above 27 each night. Currently, he is averaging more points per game than the last two scoring champions, Golden State Warriors teammates Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.
However, it is in crunch time that Thomas unleashes his full market price, underlining why the Celtics could never part ways with the 5’9″ dynamo. He commands the rock when the pressure hits, and it shows in his statistical output. In clutch moments, referring to times in which there is fewer than five minutes left on the clock and the scoring margin is within five points, Thomas has scored the second-most points in the NBA behind solely the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook.
We all witnessed the dominance that Westbrook can assert in the closing moments of a game as he racked up 18 fourth-quarter points in his team’s 117-112 win over Boston on Friday night. Luckily for Boston, Thomas’ mindset in the fourth quarter on par with the inevitable MVP’s. Thomas has racked up 79 points on the season in clutch moments. While Westbrook’s astounding 130 clutch points surmount Thomas’ by a significant portion, Thomas has posted 20 more clutch points than fellow MVP candidate James Harden and 18 more than the NBA’s scoring leader, Anthony Davis.
Despite Westbrook’s superiority in the total scoring category in clutch moments, Thomas has the upper hand on his counterpart at the point guard position in terms of efficiency. While Westbrook is shooting just 32 percent from three-point range in clutch time, Thomas has knocked down 43.8 percent of his threes. This percentage from beyond the arc is second the NBA for players with at least 16 three-point attempts in clutch moments. Thomas is shooting a nearly impeccable 88.2 percent from the charity stripe in these situations compared with Westbrook’s 80.9 percent mark while hitting 45.7 percent of his field goal attempts in comparison to Westbrook’s 43.3 percent mark. Additionally, Thomas has accumulated just five turnovers in clutch time compared to Westbrook’s 14, although this could be attributed to Westbrook having played 21 more clutch minutes than Thomas so far this season.
Thomas’ per game average of 4.6 clutch points is second only to Westbrook for players who have played in at least two clutch situations this season, 0.7 points per game more than Harden has posted in clutch moments. If you expand the view to the entire fourth quarter, Thomas’ per game average of 8.8 final stanza points ranks second in the league while he shoots at a tremendous 88.2 percent from the line in these scenarios. Over the course of the entire season, Thomas total of 219 fourth quarter points is the fourth-most the NBA, a telling statistic considering that he has only attempted the 13th-most fourth quarter shots in the league. By comparison, point guard Zach LaVine of the Timberwolves has attempted 19 more fourth quarter shots than Thomas. However, LaVine ranks just 16th in the league in points accumulated in the final 12 minutes, displaying Thomas’ substantial fourth quarter efficiency.