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.