Blakely: Thomas proves anything's possible with these Celtics

Blakely: Thomas proves anything's possible with these Celtics

BOSTON -- You could tell Isaiah Thomas had been down this road a few times before.

As the questions continued to pour in about Boston's next opponent -- the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers, who'll play Boston in the Eastern Conference finals -- they were clear reminders the Celtics are not expected to compete, let alone find success, in this upcoming series.


Even coach Brad Stevens sounded like someone who had bought into the Cleveland-is-seemingly-invincible mindset.

"You know, we played them four times," Stevens said of the Cavs after Tuesday night's 115-105 series-clinching, Game 7 win over the Wizards at TD Garden. "I think they're better than any of the four times we played them (in the regular season), including the last one where they smashed us (a 114-91 Cavs romp in Boston on April 5). So we're going to have to play really well."

And even that might not be enough in a series many anticipate will be a four-game Cleveland sweep.

But being in the passenger seat of such doubt is exactly what drives Isaiah Thomas to be who he is as a player.

And it's the reason why no matter how much my head tells me there's no way in hell Boston can win this series with Cleveland, I absolutely refuse to completely dismiss the little fella and his crew.

Because if there's one thing Thomas has taught us all during this current postseason journey: He's never out of it until he says so, and those words ain't leaving his lips anytime soon.

When Boston fell behind 2-0 to Chicago in the first round and everyone was ready to write the Celtics off as the worst No. 1 seed in NBA history, they bounced back to win four straight.

And after squandering a late lead in Game 6 at Washington and spending a good deal of the first two-plus quarters of Game 7 in a tightly contested battle, the Celtics exploded with a 22-5 run at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth, propelling them to their first berth in the Eastern Conference finals since 2012.

So as the questions about Cleveland continued to line up one after the other, you could tell Thomas saw himself and his team in a much different light than those asking the questions.

"We know it's going to be tough, but at this point anything can happen and we really believe it," Thomas said. "They didn't give us a chance in this series, they didn't give us a chance when we were down 2-0 in Chicago. We got the No. 1 seed and they didn't give us a chance. They don't ever give us a chance and we just keep going. We don't care about what others say."

That has been the story of Thomas' basketball life, a narrative that's playing out right now when you talk about the Celtics facing the Cavaliers with the winner moving on to the NBA Finals.

Despite the C's having the best record in the East, they are seen by most pundits as road-kill-in-the-making for the Cavaliers.

And as much as common sense tells me that the Celtics are going to get crushed by Cleveland's Big Three, there's a part of me that can't totally buy into that. Because Thomas' track record for "I-told-you-so" moments is pretty damn long.

The Celtics wouldn't be where they are today if not for the play of Thomas, who earlier this year was invited to play in his second straight All-Star game.

But that pales in comparison to what he did on Monday night, knocking out the Wizards with a double-double of 29 points and a career playoff-high 12 assists.

He scored like the lethal scoring machine that he has been all season.

Thomas got teammates involved, which is what a 5-foot-9 guard is supposed to do.

But beyond that, he led the way towards a win. Not just any win, but a victory that put his team among the last four standing in what continues to be a fairy tale of a season.

"Nobody thought we would be here this fast," Thomas said. "Especially when I got traded here; I don't think anybody was thinking that in a couple years we'll be in the Eastern Conference finals. But the players on this team from the first guy to the last guy, we believe in each other."

And for those who think the Cavs will annihilate them with little trouble, it was clear these words by Thomas were meant for you.

"We never give up and we feel like we're just as good as any team in the NBA," he said. "We feel like we got more work to do even though the world is counting us out. We're gonna keep going regardless."

And that's reason enough for me not to be surprised by anything this crew -- led by Thomas -- achieves in the playoffs.

Gordon Hayward rips back a morning workout while repping his Butler Bulldogs

File Photo

Gordon Hayward rips back a morning workout while repping his Butler Bulldogs

There hasn't been all positive news surrounding Gordon Hayward as of late.

The Celtics have been shooting down rumors of Hayward returning this season. Recent news has detailed a minor setback in his recovery.

But it's always good to see the C's superstar up early crushing a workout in the weightroom.

We might not see him back in 2018, but his dedication during recovery is something to admire.


Celtics look to continue rolling on the road

AP Photo

Celtics look to continue rolling on the road

It seems all season we’ve talked about the Boston Celtics overcoming adversity, whether it be a bad injury to a key player or a blown assignment leading to a loss.

Nowhere is this more apparent than their play on the road this season which ranks among the best in the NBA.

The Celtics will look to continue on their road warrior-like ways tonight at New Orleans, a team that’s fighting for playoff position in the tighter-than-usual Western Conference.

In recent years, the terrain has been rough for teams from the East venturing into Western Conference territory.

For this year’s Celtics?

Not so much.

Boston comes into tonight’s game with a 17-7 record against Western Conference teams, tops among all teams in the East.

And while Boston has eight road games left this season, they are on pace to finish with one of the best road records in franchise history.

Currently 24-9 away from the TD Garden (tops in the East, third overall in the NBA), that’s a winning percentage of .727 which is the fourth-highest in franchise history.

Here are five under-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on when the Boston Celtics take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight.


It’s a given that Al Horford will spend time defending Anthony Davis tonight. And while Davis will likely have a strong night scoring the ball, you can count on Horford making it extremely tough on him. When the two teams met on Jan. 16, Davis was 8-for-19 shooting for 16 points in 52 possessions when defended by Horford. For the game, Davis had 45 points on 16-for-34 shooting.


We’ve seen “Playoff" Rondo and “National TV" Rondo deliver some impressive performances in the past. What will we see from “Well-Rested” Rondo? The Pelicans gave the ex-Celtic the night off on Saturday as to not play him in back-to-back games. Of the two games, it made sense to sit him against the Rockets and have him ready to roll against a Boston Celtics team that will not have its full complement of players available.


Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry had some choice words about the officiating in New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday that he clearly felt cost his team a better chance at winning. The only cost in play now is how big will the check be that he’ll pay the league for his comments about the officiating. His issue was that Anthony Davis doesn’t get enough calls based on the physical abuse he takes per game. Davis ranks fourth in the NBA in free throw attempts (7.8) per game, but only had four attempts against the Rockets. It’ll be worth watching whether the Pelicans, 16th in the league in free throw attempts (21.4) per game, will get to the line significantly more or less than their season average.


One of the keys to Boston’s improved play since returning to the floor since the all-star break, has been their ability to begin games with strong play. Boston has outscored their opponent in the first quarter each of the last eight games, and 10 of 11. In addition, Boston has been ahead at the half in each of their 10 games since the all-star break, which comes on the heels of trailing at the half in the seven games prior to the break.


Jayson Tatum has been one of the most impactful rookies in the NBA this season which will likely land him a spot on the NBA’s all-rookie first or second team. One of the strengths of Tatum has been his durability, evident by him being one of just two first-year players to appear in each of his team’s games played this season. He is joined by Memphis’ Dillon Brooks.