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Brad Stevens offers passionate defense of Isaiah Thomas

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, who scored a team-high 24 points, drove in on Tobias Harris in the first half. Paul Sancya/Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — In the wee hours of Saturday morning, a few hours after a fuming Isaiah Thomas accused his team and coaches of giving up in the Celtics’ demoralizing defeat, Thomas and coach Brad Stevens had a brief summit at their hotel in Birmingham, Mich.

Thomas did not mince words after the Celtics’ 104-88 loss, a game where he was pulled in the third quarter as the Golden State Warriors went on a stirring 24-4 run. Thomas said several times after the game that the Celtics “gave up.”

“At that point [in the third quarter] the game was turned around. I guess we gave up, coaching staff as well. We started subbing. It was bad. I only played 27 minutes. We gave up,” he said Friday after the game. “We couldn’t get stops and they kept scoring and we didn’t play well on the offensive end for the whole quarter. We went into panic mode for whatever reason and that’s what happened and I’m upset with that.”

Stevens read those comments and said he decided not to say anything until he received a 3 a.m. phone call from Thomas just after the team arrived in Birmingham. The two talked over the issue.


“If Isaiah played 48 minutes in a game and you took him out for the first minute of overtime, he’d be frustrated,” Stevens said. “One of the things I really like about Isaiah is how passionate he is about the game and how competitive he is.

“Listen, it was a tough night. They were on a 23-3 run, we were down 27 and we took him out with five minutes to go [in the third quarter].

“I understand his frustration. We talked a little bit last night after the fact but to me it was a reaction to the 23-3 run, not necessarily not choosing to play somebody the rest of the night.”


Thomas said he wasn’t trying to criticize teammates but spoke from his heart just moments after a difficult loss.

“I just called [Stevens] and let him know how I felt,” he said. “And deep down he knows who I am. I’m nobody to bash anybody. I’ve never done that. He knows I want to win and my teammates know I want to win as well. I’m going to do whatever it takes.

“I just called him to let him know I wasn’t calling anybody out. That’s just how I felt. And I was frustrated. He was all for it. He knows I mean well and my teammates do as well.”

Stevens advised Thomas to perhaps temper his emotions after tough losses. Thomas usually takes more than 30 minutes following a game to address the media. On Friday, he spoke with reporters approximately 15 minutes after the game, during Stevens’s postgame session, a rarity.

“It’s on us about turning the next page and even with the media he says just take deep breath and go out there, even though you have high emotions or you might be frustrated,” Thomas said.

“Just think before you talk. I was frustrated last night with how things went and I think everybody else. I just said what I felt was right and I talked to my coach about it and he understands.”

Stevens said the conversation went well.


“He called me after we had already gotten to our rooms,” Stevens said. “I was going to let it sit. We had a good relationship.

“Hey, we’re both competitive and I think one of the things I respect about him is I really didn’t think twice about it. I know he doesn’t want to be taken out. And at the same time he knows I have a job to do.

“We talked at 3 a.m. and at 3:05 we went to bed.”

Finally whole

Al Horford and Jae Crowder were both cleared to return to action Saturday and contributed to the Celtics’ 94-92 win over the Pistons. With Marcus Smart also coming off the bench, it’s the first time this season the Celtics had 13 healthy players.

Horford missed nine games with a concussion sustained Oct. 31, while Crowder sat out eight games with a sprained left ankle. The Celtics, sensing both were close to returning, brought the duo on the road trip and they were cleared Saturday morning.

Smart, who left Friday’s game with an ankle contusion, had also recovered enough to play Saturday. He missed the first three games with a sprained ankle in October.

Horford’s recovery in the NBA’s concussion protocol was slow and meticulous. He worked out before the Nov. 12 game in Indianapolis, then he worked out 45 minutes before tip-off prior to Wednesday’s home win over Dallas, taking in all the crowd noise and music.

Finally, he sat on the bench for the entire Golden State game, a sign he was close to full strength. Saturday, Horford scoring the winning tip-in and sealed the game with a blocked shot.


“As I said, in Al’s case, he was getting better day to day and had a few really good days,” Stevens said. “I think the big thing for him was sitting through the game [Friday] night, in the arena. That had caused a problem or two the last couple of weeks when he had poked his head in there a quarter or so. He had four straight really good days.”

Starting five

Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said he considered lineup changes following Friday’s 104-81 blowout loss in Cleveland, but maintained his same lineup. The Pistons have been without former BC standout Reggie Jackson for the entire season following knee surgery. Jackson is scheduled to return in December.

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