Thomas leads Celtics past Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Isaiah Thomas was surprised how much room he had to operate on Wednesday night. The Boston Celtics’ sixth man used that extra space to notch his highest scoring game of the season.
The 5-foot-9 point guard poured in 34 points and the Celtics eliminated the Detroit Pistons from playoff contention with a 113-103 victory at The Palace.
“I think with the personnel we had on the floor, they were scared of kickouts for threes,” said Thomas, who shot 10-for-17 from the field and 10-for-11 from the foul line. “I don’t know what they were messing up on, but there were four or five times where nobody was around. It’s weird for me because usually there’s somebody around, trying to block my shot.”
Thomas, whose previous season high was 28 against Charlotte on Feb. 27, also had six assists as Boston (36-42) improved its playoff chances. The Celtics tied Brooklyn, which lost to Atlanta on Wednesday, for the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Thomas is averaging 27.3 points over the last three games after failing to reach the 20-point mark in his previous five outings. He missed eight games in March with a bruised lower back.
“The first week back from the back injury, he was fairly tentative,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “In the last few games, he’s really playing more like himself and we need him to be good. We don’t need him to score 34 every game but we need him to be good.”
Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy failed to find a defensive strategy to neutralize Thomas.
“We couldn’t contain Isaiah Thomas,” Van Gundy said. “We could not keep him out of the paint. We couldn’t stop him one-on-one on drives or on pick-and-rolls when our big guys tried to trap him.”
Forward Jae Crowder contributed 17 points and six rebounds for the Celtics, who never trailed after producing an 18-0 run to close out the first quarter. Celtics power forward Brandon Bass tossed in 16 points off the bench and shooting guard Avery Bradley chipped in 11 points and five rebounds. Center Kelly Olynyk added 12 points for Boston, which went 33 of 34 from the free throw line and collected its fifth consecutive road win.
Center Andre Drummond’s 22 points and 14 rebounds topped the Pistons (30-48), who had a five-game home winning streak snapped. Detroit point guard Reggie Jackson supplied 21 points and 15 assists, and power forward Greg Monroe, who missed the previous 11 games with a right knee strain, piled up 19 points and 10 rebounds.
The Pistons shot 53.6 percent from the field but committed 19 turnovers, leading to 26 Celtics points.
“It makes it hard on your defense because you have to get back in transition against quick people like (Thomas),” Van Gundy said of the turnovers. “It’s tough. We’re asking a lot of Reggie to create plays, so he’s in there (deep).”
Forward Tayshaun Prince added 15 points off the bench and surpassed 10,000 points as a Piston.
Thomas had 11 first-half points to lift the Celtics to a 55-47 halftime lead. He scored seven points during the 18-0 outburst.
Jackson carried Detroit back into the game midway through the third quarter with two layups and an alley-oop pass to shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to cut Boston’s lead to 66-64.
Back-to-back three-point plays by Thomas and Crowder pushed the Celtics’ lead to double digits and Thomas’ 3 in the final minute of the quarter made it 91-74.
“It was just one of those nights for me,” Thomas said. “Shots were falling and I was getting to the rim.”
Thomas exceeded 30 points on a layup with 7:22 left to make it 100-84. Detroit pulled within eight in the late going but couldn’t get any closer.
NOTES: Pistons PF Greg Monroe’s return to the lineup after an 11-game absence will help coach Stan Van Gundy evaluate how he blends with PG Reggie Jackson, who was acquired at the February trade deadline. Monroe becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. “If we’re fortunate enough to get Greg back here next year, I need to figure out how to make it work,” Van Gundy said. ... Monroe and Detroit C Andre Drummond are two of three Eastern Conference players with at least 100 double-doubles since the 2012-13 season. Orlando C Nikola Vucevic has 125, followed by Drummond (110) and Monroe (105). ... Celtics PG Isaiah Thomas was averaging 18.9 points off the bench in 17 games since he was acquired from Phoenix at the trade deadline. ... Boston has been led in scoring by 14 different players this season. ... The Pistons had won their last six home games against the Celtics before Wednesday.