With the whole world watching, Isaiah Thomas heroically dropped 33 points on 10-for-18 shooting in the first game of the postseason just a day after his sister passed away. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to lead the Celtics to victory as they lost by four. He added another 20 points in game two but Boston found themselves in an 0-2 hole and the world seemed to be quickly giving up on the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Then something strange happened, something that you wouldn’t expect out of the 2017 Boston Celtics; they started to win games without being carried by Thomas’ offensive production.
He scored just 16 points in game three while shooting under 40% from the field in game three and the Celtics won. This sparked a rally that ended with Boston polishing the eighth seeded Chicago Bulls off in six games; Thomas scored just 12 in the clincher on another off shooting night. When all the dust settled, he wound up leading the team in scoring just once across their four wins in that first round series.
Thomas was far better in the Eastern Conference Semifinals with the team needing seven games to knock off the Washington Wizards. His 53 points on his late sister’s birthday was arguably the best story out of what was otherwise a boring NBA postseason. Despite his improved play, you still saw traces of the ability to win without him shouldering the scoring load.
Avery Bradley dropped 29 points in a crucial game five that broke a 2-2 tie as Thomas finished tied for third on the team with 18 points on just 38.5% shooting while nobody will forget Kelly Olynyk straight up stealing his “King of the Fourth” bit and became a game seven hero.
His postseason ended just six quarters into the Eastern Conference Finals thanks to a hip injury and the Celtics were eliminated in five games by the Cleveland Cavaliers, beating them in game three with Thomas sitting out.
Boston doesn’t earn the top seed without Thomas and you probably need him to make a playoff run, but this team is deep enough to the point where he doesn’t need to score 30 per night in order to give them a fighting chance. After averaging 28.9 PPG during the regular season, his average dropped by 5.6 PPG to just 23.3 in the postseason; that’s a full point less than what he averaged in the playoffs last season when they fell in round one to the Atlanta Hawks in just six games.
Think about that for a second. If I told you at the beginning of the postseason that Isaiah Thomas would see a drop in scoring from a year earlier would you tell me this team reached the Eastern Conference Finals? Probably not.
And now it’s going to be even easier for the Celtics to come at opponents with a more balanced scoring attack. Avery Bradley – who was recently traded to the Detroit Pistons – has been the second leading scorer in each of Thomas’ two full seasons in Boston but adding Gordon Hayward makes up for that loss and more. Bradley averaged 15.6 PPG over the past two seasons, Hayward is a 20 PPG guy who has also made an All-Star team in the talented Western Conference.
The second unit will improve too. While they lost a very productive offensive role player in Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder will likely take a bench role and become their leader. Jayson Tatum has a lot of upside on both ends of the floor as well and gives the team a guy who can play three or four positions.