BOSTON – The route to the All-Star game is in many ways identical to what it was a year ago this time.
But there is one significant difference.
A year ago, Thomas getting his first All-Star nod was a nail-biter because truth be told, he didn’t know he was in until he was told so.
Not so much.
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After losing on a tie-breaker to Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan to be a starter for the East team in next month’s All-Star game in New Orleans, Thomas – and the rest of the basketball world for that matter – knew he was going to be among the seven reserves chosen by the coaches to be on the East roster.
And that knowledge speaks volumes to not only how far Thomas has come but also how impressive he has been this season for the Celtics who easily defeated Orlando 128-98 on Friday night.
“I’m blessed,” said Thomas who reached another milestone with his game-high 21 points against Orlando. “God has blessed me in numerous ways and I’m appreciative, but I expect it out of myself.”
By scoring 21 points on Friday, Thomas eclipsed the 20-point plateau for the 30th consecutive game which had not been done by a Celtic since Kevin McHale in 1986.
It has been that kind of season for Thomas who already holds the franchise record for most points scored by a guard (52) as well as the most points scored in the fourth quarter (29) of a game.
But as well as he’s played, he wouldn’t mind having a little company during All-Star weekend.
Right now, Boston, Toronto and Atlanta are in a tight battle for the right to coach the East All-Stars this season.
Cleveland will likely finish with the best record in the East by the Feb. 5 cutoff date, but Cavs coach and former Celtics assistant coach Tyronn Lue replaced a fired David Blatt shortly before last year’s All-Star game.
The Cavs had the best record and Lue coached the team, which makes him ineligible to be the East coach this year.
Toronto (29-18) is second in the East, and has a half-game lead over Boston (28-18) followed by Atlanta (27-20) which is 1.5 games behind the Celtics and a 2.0 games behind the Raptors.
Thomas said it would be great to play for Stevens in the All-Star game.
“That would show you the direction this franchise is headed in,” Thomas said. “From when I first got here to now, we’ve taken steps forward and that’d be another step forward in what we are trying to chase in the championship.”
For Stevens, the best part about coaching Thomas during All-Star weekend would be what it means to the franchise and its status in the Eastern Conference.
“It would be great because it means we’re playing at a good level,” Stevens said. “Otherwise, it’s not on a list of goals I have written down anywhere … which I don’t have written down anywhere, anyways.”
Thomas sees another potential plus in having Stevens as the East coach.
“I’ll get more minutes,” he said, grinning.
When a reporter said that might not happen, Thomas, still grinning, said, “I will; I know that.”