Blakely: Isaiah Thomas is a superstar with an asterisk

Blakely: Isaiah Thomas is a superstar with an asterisk

BOSTON -- If there’s one thing this postseason run by the Celtics has taught us about Isaiah Thomas, it’s that his mental toughness is on a level few can match.
He has produced at a high level on the brightest stage of them all -- the playoffs -- despite constant double and triple teams, not to mention overcoming both emotional and physical hurdles that might have crushed a lesser player.
Thomas is a star in this league, but different than others because of his height.
As much as the 5-foot-9 Thomas plays at a level where size apparently doesn’t matter, this second-round series with Washington is a reminder that the deeper you get into the postseason, size does become a factor for everyone -- Thomas included.
It doesn’t mean he’s not a star in this league. But he's a star with an asterisk because he has a shortcoming to his game -- his height --  that no amount of effort on his part can every fully compensate for.
And it’s obvious that Washington is doing all it can to take advantage of this as much as possible.
The Wizards didn’t win Games 3 and 4 solely because they were able to post up Thomas effectively, but there’s no getting around that it helped.
It meant Thomas had to work a lot harder to hold his own defensively, in addition to forcing the Celtics as a group to defend differently to compensate for a mismatch that Washington made no secret about wanting to exploit. A lot.
In Game 3, the Wizards’ plan led to two quick fouls on Thomas in the first quarter.
“They are trying to hide him a little bit,” Washington’s Bradley Beal said after the game. “We wanted to expose that. Of course, we are going to continue to stick with it if they are going to continue to hide him.”
Thomas has always been the little guy with the big game who consistently found a way to not allow his physical stature take away from his ability to dominate play.  
Viewed as a defensive liability, Thomas has been able to compensate with toughness, grit and a dogged approach.
He's made tremendous strides as a defender in the NBA, but no amount of added strength, lateral quickness or instincts can make up for the fact that he’s 5-9 and gives up several inches in height every time he steps on the floor.
The Wizard haven't had a tremendous amount of success getting points while posting him up, but they’ve done enough to where it’s noticeable and has in some ways altered how the Celtics play defense.
And while he has proven himself to be one of the league’s better guards, his defense will continue to limit to some degree how bright his star will shine.

Among the 10 guards named to last February’s All-Star Game, only Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving had a worst defensive rating (109.1) than Thomas (108.6) this past season.
But Irving is 6-foot-3, 25 years old, and conventional wisdom tells us he’ll improve defensively because of his age, increased knowledge gained by experience, and last -- but certainly not least -- his size.
Thomas, 28, doesn’t have that luxury.
But that doesn’t mean he’s any less of a superstar in this league.
He’s a star, but one with an asterisk because like every other big-name talent in the league, he has a shortcoming.
Unfortunately for Thomas, it’s one that can never been improved upon.

Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

When you think about Marcus Morris these days, big-time scoring immediately comes to mind. 

But in Boston’s 105-100 comeback win over Portland, Morris’ contributions went beyond the game-high 30 points he dropped on the Blazers.

MORE - Blakely's stars, studs, and duds from Celtics-Trail Blazers

“Coach (Brad Stevens) is doing a great job of getting me the ball in my spots and my teammates are finding me,” Morris told reporters after the win. “And I’m just coming through.”

He’s providing strong play and a tremendous presence at both ends of the floor which has been critical to the team navigating some choppy waters with a number of regular rotation players – namely Kyrie Irving – out with injuries.

“One thing is, he’s healthy,” said Boston’s Al Horford, referring to the sore knee that limited Morris earlier this season and at times forced him to miss games. “And the other is, he’s just more confident, he’s playing very assertive. He’s playing great right now, in a really good rhythm.”

Said Stevens: “That’s been him (Morris). As he’s continued to feel better; I think physically he’s felt as good as he’s felt. He’s comfortable in our system and we need him to score. If you’re a basketball player and your job is to score, that’s a pretty good job.”

And it’s one that even with all the injuries Boston has played through, few envisioned him being such an integral part of the offense. 

Morris’ calling card prior to arriving in Boston was his defense. 

But Morris has made it known that his focus on the floor is to be as complete a player as possible.

“I’m not trying to just limit myself to just being that scorer,” Morris said. “Also, on the defensive end I think I’m bringing it; my defense has gotten a lot better, especially my on-the-ball defense. I’m trying to be that all-around player and not just an offensive player … but I can score.”


Marcus Morris and the shorthanded Celtics continue to make magic happen

Marcus Morris and the shorthanded Celtics continue to make magic happen

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 105-100 comeback win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night. 

WATCH - Morris drills clutch 3-pointer vs Blazers


Marcus Morris: He continues to fill the void that exists with Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness) not returning to the lineup anytime soon. For the second straight game, Morris wound up with the game-winning shot. Morris led all scorers with 30 points, one shy of tying his season high.

C.J. McCollum: Team scoring honors were shared between McCollum and Damian Lillard, but it was McCollum’s baskets in the closing minutes that positioned the Blazers with a shot at winning. For the game, he had 26 points on 12-for-22 shooting with seven rebounds and four assists.

Damian Lillard: Not quite as efficient as McCollum, but Lillard was very much a load for the Celtics all game. He had 26 points on 9-for-22 shooting from the field and eight assists.



Shane Larkin: There were others with better numbers, but few had as big an impact on the game as Shane Larkin. He did a great job all game of running the team, as well as scoring nine points to go with seven assists and four rebounds. But it was his defense on Damian Lillard that was absolutely huge for the Celtics getting the win.

Greg Monroe: Boston’s second unit was a key factor tonight with Greg Monroe being among those leading the second unit charge, finishing with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. 

Al-Farouq Aminu: He wasn’t much of a factor down the stretch, but Aminu had another solid stat line for the Blazers, finishing with a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds along with five steals.



Blazers bench: Portland’s second unit was dreadful, shooting a combined 4-for-19 from the field while totaling just 13 points with each of the four players off the bench finishing with a plus/minus of no better than -9.