WALTHAM — Isaiah Thomas was acquired by the Celtics last February for his scoring prowess. Thomas is a pure scorer despite his 5-feet-9-inch frame.
When inserted into the starting lineup two games ago, Thomas was also asked to be a distributor. And he responded.
In two starts, Thomas is averaging 21.5 points and 7.5 assists on 41.2 percent shooting, compared with 22.3 points, 6.3 assists, and 39.6 percent as a reserve. The Celtics are scoring 110 points per possession with Thomas on the floor as a starter, compared with 106 as a reserve.
Thomas is likely to return to a bench role when Marcus Smart (sprained left big toe) is healthy, but he relishes the opportunity to distribute and display his array of skills.
"Finding other players and getting other players going, it definitely gives you a different feeling," Thomas said Sunday. "It gets you going seeing other players succeed and see the ball going through the hoop for other players. Once I do that, it's even tougher for the defense to guard me. They've got to pick their poison, whether they want to stop me or stop my teammates."
As a floor leader, Thomas said he has worked well with coach Brad Stevens because the two have developed trust.
"He lets me figure it out on my own a lot of the times," said Thomas. "When things do get tough, he pulls me aside and tells me what he sees and we'll watch film on some things he thinks I need to get better at. I'm an extension of him and he's a hell of a coach that knows what he's doing, and I'm all ears."
Stevens said there isn't much he has learned about Thomas that he didn't know, but he is impressed with Thomas's playmaking ability.
"He is a guy who comes off screens to make plays, he can read plays, he likes to study the game and learn the game," Stevens said. "The biggest thing is he's first and foremost a threat to score. That creates a lot of attention and, in some games, that will make him have to be more of a passer than a scorer."
Stretching the truth
Jae Crowder has motivated teammates by perhaps exaggerating some opponents' lack of respect. For example, he told Jared Sullinger the Wizards were "disrespecting" him by allowing him to take long-range jumpers Friday night. Sullinger responded by hitting 3 of 4 3-point attempts in the Celtics' 118-98 win.
Crowder admitted he may stretch the truth to inspire his teammates.
"You have to, we call it 'gas' around here," he said. "You've just got to gas them up. It brings the best out of players. I know myself it does. Me and Isaiah, we play with each other, joke around and make it tough on each other, but we knew how to push each other's buttons to get us going. I do the same thing to [Sullinger] and he performed well. I told him he has to try to help us win on the offensive end, and [Friday] was his night.
"Same thing I did with Kelly [Olynyk]. Let him know he was being disrespected, gotta shoot the ball. Just try to build confidence in those guys."
Said Olynyk, when asked if teams were disrespecting his shooting ability, "Yeah, that will be nice if they do that. I'd appreciate that."
Neither Crowder (bone bruise, left knee) nor Smart practiced Sunday, but both are expected to play Tuesday against the Bucks in Milwaukee. Crowder sustained his injury late in Friday's win when he bumped knees with Washington's Kelly Oubre during a drive to the basket. Crowder limped off the floor.
"I'm a little sore, which was expected," he said. "I've been getting treatment, it will get stiff on me. Keep getting massaged, keep getting iced, I'll be fine."