There’s a certain mental and physical barrier that the best players in the NBA manage to navigate around when it comes to dealing with the second night of back-to-back games.
It’s a time when players are usually a step or two slower than usual.
And then there’s Isaiah Thomas who has been at best on the back end of back-to-backs, delivering some of his best performances of the season in those situations.
- Highlights: Boston Celtics 112, Milwaukee Bucks 108 (OT)
- Stars, studs and duds: Crowder's play key in Celtics victory over Bucks
- Celtics make big plays down stretch to edge Bucks in overtime, 112-108
Boston’s 112-108 overtime win at Milwaukee was yet another night in which Thomas saved his best for a game in which players often are at their worst or at least not as good as they are most nights.
He led all scorers with 37 points on 11-for-21 shooting from the field while dishing out eight assists.
Thomas said the reasoning behind the extra burst he plays with in back-to-back games is simple.
“I work; I work all summer,” he told reporters following Saturday’s win. “I prepare myself to be able to out-last the next guy. I try to continue to keep going and show my opponent I’m not tired.”
Mission accomplished, especially when you consider he has averaged 35.2 points per game in games played on the second night of a back-to-back set.
And making his scoring even more impressive, he’s doing it against teams whose defensive game plan is centered around keeping him from having a big game.
The Bucks have tremendous length at most positions, but that didn’t do them much good in the first half on Saturday when Thomas scored 23 points while doing it on just 5-for-7 shooting.
So the Bucks changed up things defensively in the second half, but that still didn’t prevent Thomas from making an impact offensively.
When asked about what the Bucks did to him defensively in the second half, Thomas replied, “face-guarding; denying, double-teaming me. They were doing it all.”
And as they continued to make Thomas the focus of their attention, he began to make more plays for his teammates.
“Just try to be out there and make the right play,” Thomas said. “I did that for the most part.”
You can add Jaylen Brown to the list of folks impressed with Thomas’ ability to elevate his play at a time when most players aren’t at the top of their game.
“That little dude can go,” Brown told reporters after the game. “He’s one of the best players I’ve seen with my own eyes, if not the best. Back-to-back nights and he’s acting like he had a week off. It’s incredible how he does what he does. He’s done it so often it’s starting to not be unusual.”
Thomas often makes it look easy when he just pulls up in transition to drain a 3-pointer, or beats a defender to the basket and lofts a how-did-that-not-get-blocked shot over the outstretched hand of a defender.
But he’ll be the first to tell you, scoring does take a physical toll throughout the course of a game.
“It took a lot,” said Thomas who played more than 40 minutes on Saturday. “I’m glad it ended the way it did. We’ve been in situations like this before; big leads and the team comes back and ends up winning. For us to control the game towards the end and get a win without Al (Horford, groin injury) and Avery (Bradley, strained right Achilles), that says a lot about this team. It gives us a little bit of confidence. Hopefully we can keep it going.”