Adam Kaufman

After One Game in Green, Itís Clear Thereís Lots to Love About Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas.jpg

It obviously wasnít a perfect debut for new Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas in Los Angeles Sunday night, but it did have all the compelling drama and twists and turns of some of the Oscar-nominated entrants being celebrated a few miles down the road before, throughout, and (agonizingly) after his time on the floor.

The speedy 26 year old proved a reliable offensive spark plug off the Boston bench in an eventual 118-111 overtime loss to the Lakers. True to his reputation, Thomas was energetic and downright fierce on both ends of the floor in his 25 minutes, whether it was while pouring in 21 points on 13 shots and connecting on six-of-seven free throws Ė what a novel concept for a Celts point guard! Ė or hauling in five rebounds (four defensive) and picking up two steals.

Though Thomas was a deceiving minus-seven for the game, he was there whenever the Cís needed a lift.

Until, of course, he wasnít.

A double-technical forced ejection with 5:03 to play in regulation and the Celtics trailing 91-87 left them without their best player during the gameís most important stretches.

In fairness, Thomas probably shouldnít have been tossed from that game.

Moments earlier, referee Tony Brothers was getting an uncharacteristic earful from coach Brad Stevens, which appeared to contribute to his lack of patience by the time Thomas was whistled for a debatable offensive foul and reacted by slamming the ball onto the court in frustration. When Thomas flipped the ball back in Brothersí direction, he was given the gate, and Stevens gave the ref the eyes.

You might look like Stevens, too. Can you find the foul?

The first technical was for slamming the ball, Stevens was told upon his request for an explanation, and the second was for the throw. One could argue it was all the same act, but a frustrated Brothers obviously didnít see it that way and the decision may very well have cost the depleted Celtics the game.

Jared Sullinger, done for the season with a foot injury, and Kelly Olynyk, still out with a sprained ankle, were both missing. By the end of regulation, Marcus Smart had fouled out. Bostonís proverbial gas light was on when Avery Bradley drained a buzzer-beating three-pointer to force overtime, and the team was on fumes in the extra session.

To anyone quick to be concerned over Thomasís act or attitude, remember two things as the new fiery guard demands the benefit of the doubt after only one showing:

For starters, as radio broadcaster Sean Grande pointed out during the broadcast, Thomas had been assessed just two technical fouls all season prior to his misfortune at the Staples Center. And, second, despite not personally addressing his ill-advised gaffes with reporters after the game, Stevens told the media his new player apologized to his teammates.

At the least, thatís something you like to hear, versus the perception he fouled out, sulked, and stormed off.

Are expectations higher? Of course. But Stevens said the process of fitting in takes time.

"Heís gotta be there at the end. I think thatís number one," the coach said. "He does a lot of good things for our team, heís a good player. And he knows that. He said something to the team in the locker room. He seems like an accountable guy. But heís a good player and weíre going to need him. We need everybody on board, especially when weíre shorthanded.

"You gotta know the line and not cross it. Again, it was a mistake, not the end of the world. At the same time. He knew that. He was very accountable about that, said it in the locker room, not the way he wanted to start. But he did a lot of good things while he was playing."

Thomasís teammates agreed. Evan Turner said he didnít believe his new backcourt mate should have been tossed and Smart essentially said he respected Thomasís passion.

The guard isnít like his old teammate in Sacramento, highly-coveted center DeMarcus Cousins. These instances wonít come often; one just happened to occur in his debut.

Was Thomasís ejection the difference between a win and a loss? Given the Celtics trailed by four at the time of his exit and saw that deficit grow to 10 before a late rally, itís entirely possible, but one or a series of mistakes wonít define a tenure, especially with three team-friendly years remaining on his $27 million contract.

Thomas, as Danny Ainge might say, is an asset, even if heís one Ainge has longed for obtaining since his college days in Washington and on through multiple stops out west.

Ultimately, the guard provides the Celtics with something they havenít had all season: an explosive backcourt shooter who creates his own shot, thrives at the pick-and-roll, and isnít afraid to attack the basket and get drilled on the way. As good as Marcus Thornton was at piling up points and keeping Boston in games on occasion, he couldnít do it with the consistency expected of Thomas.

What should we expect from Thomas the rest of the way? Hard to say exactly as his role is still somewhat to be defined.

Stevens will continue to tinker with his rotations with his Celtics still miraculously just two games out of a playoff spot in the ever-disappointing East. Itís never been particularly important to the coach who starts and who doesnít, so itís probably fair to assume Thomas will continue seeing 25-30 minutes off the bench and enjoy quite a bit of time with his childhood friend Bradley, Smart, or both when the team elects to go small.

Thomas does promise to bring two things, though: One, of course, is the passion and intensity that got the best of him in the eyes of Brothers, but will likely be more beneficial most nights; something fans who criticized Rajon Rondo for only showing up for bigger or nationally televised games will surely appreciate.

The other is offense, and a lot of it. The guard didnít personally lose that game in LA, but you can bet heíll win some before the year is up.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman and email me here.

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