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Isaiah Thomas wants to lead Celtics by example

Isaiah Thomas shot 5 for 17 and committed two offensive fouls in the Celtics’ 101-92 loss to the Bulls Thursday night.
Isaiah Thomas shot 5 for 17 and committed two offensive fouls in the Celtics’ 101-92 loss to the Bulls Thursday night. Paul Beaty/Associated Press

MEMPHIS — It was admittedly Isaiah Thomas’s lowest moment as a professional basketball player. Thomas has flourished despite his size to become the Celtics’ primary option and is on the verge of being an All-Star, yet he allowed the game to control him Thursday night at Chicago.

His frustration had been mounting. Thomas was coming off a 6-for-20 shooting performance in Wednesday’s stunning home loss to the Detroit Pistons, missing 14 consecutive shots in one stretch. Also, Thomas, missed four free throws that could have changed the outcome of the game.

It was the first time in 56 games as a Celtic he missed four free throws in a game. The next night in Chicago, he was 5-for-17 shooting, committed two offensive fouls and missed all four of his 3-point attempts.


After the game, a 101-92 Celtics loss, Thomas took a major step in becoming a leader. He pointed the finger at himself. He has no issue with taking responsibility, but this was different. He not only blamed himself for the Celtics’ fourth loss in five games, he acknowledged he is the player who sets an example for his teammates.

That can be construed as arrogant, but it might be true. For the first time in his career, Thomas is getting as many minutes as he desires and is starting. When Thomas was with the Kings, he stewed over why Jimmer Fredette was playing. When he was with the Suns, he wondered why he had to sacrifice in Phoenix’s three-guard offense, where all three guards handled the ball.

So with little reason to complain about his role, Thomas understands he is the focal point of most opposing defenses. When he didn’t receive a couple of calls he felt he deserved Thursday against the Bulls, Thomas’s frustration got the better of him.


“I have to do a better job of controlling my emotions and being a better leader out there,” Thomas said. “[My teammates] see me complain, they see me have bad body language and it wore off on my teammates. I put that one on me.”

Defenses are gearing to stop Thomas. Sometimes he is allowed to penetrate and then the defense collapses, forcing the 5-foot-9-inch Thomas to pass out of the double team or convert an acrobatic layup. On other occasions, the opposition uses Thomas’s aggression against him, such as Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich, who drew an offensive foul by guessing Thomas would drive with full steam to the basket.

“I think coach [Jay Larranaga] called a great play out of a timeout when we were down 8 [in the fourth quarter],” Thomas said. “My three went in and out, they might have scored, I turned it over, we got it back, I turned it over again. You can’t have that on the road against a good team like the Bulls. You can’t have those types of mistakes. I put that on me. I’m definitely going to do better.

“I hold myself to a high standard and [Thursday] wasn’t a good one for me.”

Thomas carries a great deal of responsibility. He is the Celtics’ first pure, primary scorer since Paul Pierce. Because of his size and how often he gets bumped in the paint, officials tend to silence their whistles.

Perhaps they figure since he is so small, he’s going to get bounced like a pinball regardless. That perception angers Thomas, but he has controlled his emotions since joining the Celtics last February. It will be interesting to see how Thomas reacts Sunday against Memphis.


He is the midst of an awful shooting slump and the 88.5 percent free throw shooter has missed five in the past two games. If the Celtics are going to play consistent, team-oriented basketball, where the shots are falling and the defense is staunch, it begins with Thomas.

Call it arrogance, honesty or both, but he realizes his importance to this organization, the team, and the Celtics’ success.

“They do [feed off me],” Thomas said of his teammates. “That’s why I’m upset because I let my emotions get the best of me. I let my frustrations get the best of me where I was complaining and you see other guys complaining. I had my head down.

“You see other guys, they really look at me for not just leadership vocally but my body language. And as a leader, I have to do a better job and I will never let that happen again.”

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Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.