As Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas has piled up points and assists and flashy moments this season, his All-Star candidacy has generated considerable buzz. Even opponents are taking notice.
"In the games, like we play against somebody and they'll be like, 'Man, I hope you make the All-Star team. You've been balling,' " Thomas said on Monday. "It's nice to get the recognition and for your peers to see it, so hopefully it happens."
Entering Monday's 103-94 win over the Nets, Thomas was averaging 20.9 points, 6.8 assists, and 2.9 rebounds per game while shooting 90.2 percent from the free throw line. Steph Curry is the only player in NBA history to finish a season with statistics at or above Thomas's current levels to be left off an All-Star team that year, as he was in 2012-13.
And even when you remove Thomas's sparkling free throw percentage from the equation, just eight players failed to make All-Star teams after playing an entire season and finishing with scoring, rebounding, and assist averages that are as good as Thomas's.
Thomas has had impressive statistics before, but this year his strong play has coincided with team success. This is his fifth NBA season and he has yet to play for a team that finished with a winning record. The Celtics are 19-15 this season.
Thomas said Celtics coach Brad Stevens has spoken to him about how wins will help him gain the individual recognition he deserves.
"I want to be one of the best to ever play the game, and I feel like becoming an All-Star comes along with it," Thomas said. "I know that with being on a winning team and playing at a high level, the individual success is going to come. So I believe if we keep winning and make a push in the Eastern Conference, then I put myself in a pretty good position to get in that game."
There has been a groundswell of support for Thomas's All-Star push, with friends such as boxer Floyd Mayweather and Clippers guard Jamal Crawford stumping for him on Twitter, along with several Celtics teammates.
"This means a lot, especially where I come from," Thomas said. "I mean, being the last pick in the draft, I didn't think something like this could happen for a guy like me, so it means a lot that people are supporting me."
But it looks like Thomas's fate might ultimately rest with the Eastern Conference coaches, who select the All-Star reserves. In the most recent fan voting figures released by the NBA, Thomas ranked ninth among guards.
Stevens said after Saturday's loss to the Nets that he would "reassess things," and on Monday night he made two changes to the starting lineup, one out of necessity and one by choice.
Guard Avery Bradley missed the game because of a sore left hip and was replaced by Evan Turner, and Kelly Olynyk took over for Jared Sullinger, who has been struggling.
Sullinger acknowledged Monday that he had failed to join a team huddle during a timeout Saturday, but it was unclear if this incident had anything to do with Stevens's decision to sit him.
"I was a little upset, so just blew off some steam," Sullinger said.
Sullinger was asked what he was upset about.
"A lot of things," he said. "It was a lot of things going on, especially the way the game was going. So I just tried to refrain myself from snapping, regardless of whatever happened."
Olynyk had 9 points and four rebounds in 34 minutes Monday, while Sullinger recorded 12 points and 10 boards in 18 minutes.
Stevens said he started Turner (12 points, 11 rebounds) instead of Marcus Smart because he is still gauging Smart's playing time as the guard works his way back after missing 18 games with a knee injury. Smart logged 24 minutes, scoring 7 points.
"If Marcus played at the start of each half," Stevens said, "then you're just adding up minutes that you can otherwise control."
Bradley, meanwhile, suffered the hip injury during a collision in the second quarter Saturday and did not travel to Brooklyn.
"He was really sore yesterday," Stevens said. "I don't know what that means for the rest of the week, but when he got hit, he got a hip pointer. He said it really swelled up quickly. And it was very uncomfortable yesterday for him to sit, cough, move."
No Jack a big loss
Nets guard Jarrett Jack tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Saturday's win over Boston and is out for the year. Jack suffered the injury in the third quarter and crumpled to the ground. It was initially diagnosed as just a sprain.
"You hate seeing guys end their season with an injury, you hate it, no matter which team they're playing for," Stevens said. "I certainly feel bad for him, and I'm sure he'll bounce back well."
Jack was averaging 12.8 points, 7.4 assists, and 4.3 rebounds this season. Shane Larkin started in his place Monday.