When Isaiah Thomas erupted for a career-high 52 points in the Celtics’ win Friday night, he could not help but notice that he inflicted all of that damage without registering a single assist.
He did not feel at ease about that until his teammates made it clear that his sparkling night should not be dimmed by such a stat, or a lack of one.
Nevertheless, Tuesday against the Jazz at TD Garden he was once again dominant, and this time it was not a solo act.
Thomas dished out a career-high 15 assists and scored 29 points, all while turning over the ball just once, leading the Celtics to a 115-104 win, one of their most impressive of this season.
Afterward, Thomas — whose career has been built on doubts and chips on shoulders — insisted that this latest pristine performance had not been part of any grand plan. But his teammates weren’t so sure.
“I think he made a choice tonight,” forward Jae Crowder said, smiling. “He didn’t like that. That’s the first thing he said after the 50-point game was ‘I had zero assists,’ and tonight he showed he can do both.”
The Jazz constantly threw double-teams at Thomas, hoping to use their length to disrupt him. But in the end he still found ways to score, and he still found teammates with an array of daring passes that did not seem to be available when he unleashed them. Rookie forward Jaylen Brown said Thomas must have eyes in the back of his head, tucked underneath his trademark white headband.
Thomas said the truth is that sometimes he cannot see his teammates when he fires the ball to them. He said his passes hit their targets because this team has built familiarity and trust.
“And most of the time, guys are in the right spots,” he said. “When I can’t see, I just try to throw it to the rim. I know Jae’s going to be on my right side so I can always throw back right. But it’s just being familiar with your players and knowing where they’re going to be at all times.”
Of course, passes can only become assists when players make shots. And Tuesday the Celtics made one after another, from near and far. They shot 55.4 percent from the field — their highest mark of this season — and drained 17 of 31 3-pointers, tying a franchise record for made 3s in a game.
Utah entered the night with the second-ranked defense in the NBA, but the Celtics probed and pushed until they found what they were looking for.
Crowder drilled his first five attempts from long range, the lone miss coming on a fourth-quarter desperation try with the shot-clock winding down. He finished with 21 points and said after the game he had been motivated by a flippant move by some fans at TD Garden.
He said he had heard cheers before the game for Jazz star Gordon Hayward, who will likely become a free agent at season’s end and has become a coveted summer target of many Celtics fans. Hayward also plays the same position as Crowder.
“I didn’t like that at all,” Crowder said of the cheers. “I think that was a sign of disrespect to me from the fans. That sparked a little fire in me.”
If drilling five consecutive 3-pointers is what happens when Crowder perceives a slight, maybe those perceived slights are not the worst things for the Celtics.
Avery Bradley (14 points) and Marcus Smart (9 points) both returned after being sidelined with stomach bugs. Bradley missed Friday’s game against the Heat, and Smart spent two nights at a hospital before being released Tuesday morning.
The Celtics had a brutal December that was filled with road games and long flights — including one in which they received a bomb threat — and very little time to practice. But January will be more forgiving, and coach Brad Stevens said that while the added practice time will be beneficial, extra rest will help, too.
The Celtics had two consecutive days off — a rarity — prior to Monday’s brief practice, and Stevens could notice a difference Tuesday.
“We looked fresh,” he said. “We haven’t looked fresh in a while.”
The Jazz had cut a 14-point lead to 8 late in the third quarter before Thomas took over, slicing into the lane and firing a pass to Horford for an open 3-pointer.
“I don’t know how he saw me,” Horford said.
“Guys took care of me and were making shots,” Thomas said. “I know they’re a good defensive team, so when I attacked they showed more than one guy. My job was just to get the ball to the open guy. I tried to do that.”
Moments later Thomas sprinted upcourt, put the ball between his legs and nearly shook defender Shelvin Mack out of his sneakers before hitting a layup.
With 2:21 left in the third period, Smart fed Crowder in the right corner for his fifth 3-pointer, giving the Celtics an 83-66 lead, their largest. Utah twice pulled within 7 points in the final quarter, but it could get no closer.