Game 4: Wizards Win, Isaiah Thomas Complains | Wizards Blog Truth About

Game 4: Wizards Win, Isaiah Thomas Complains

Updated: May 8, 2017

The common reaction from Wizards fans after the team’s 121-102 win over Boston in Game 4 was, “Man, if only we won Game 2, we would be up 3-1 right now.

But I’ve got a different theory. Washington needed to blow Game 2. They needed to watch Isaiah Thomas score 53 points on drives to his left and pull-up jumpers to his right. They needed to watch Al Horford hit uncontested jumpers off of pick and rolls.

They needed a “come to Jesus moment” to finally look themselves in the collective mirror and challenge themselves to get back to the defensive fundamentals that carried them through their historic run from December through February.

And from that point forward they bought into Scott Brooks’ scheme for defending Isaiah Thomas.

Push him right. Show hard on pick and rolls and recover quickly to the big man. Challenge Thomas with verticality at the rim – not reaching. Make him give the ball up early in possessions. And, most importantly, make him work on defense.

It has worked. In the last two games Isaiah has a combined 32 points on 10-for-22 shooting with eight turnovers.

Isaiah walked into his post-game press conference after Game 4 a defeated man. His first words – and almost all that came after – were complaints about the refs. He said the refs allowed the Wizards to grab and hold. He said he spent the game knocked to the floor and still could not get a call. He said something has to change with how the game is called. For the record, Thomas did not attempt a free throw in the game.

When he was not complaining about the refs, Thomas was questioning his teammates’ fortitude. Isaiah said he saw too many lowered heads when Washington went on its decisive 26-0 third quarter run. Too many guys were giving up open looks. He said you have to shoot like you’ve made three in a row.

It was not just Isaiah’s words. It was his tone and his body language. He looked like a beaten man. In short, Isaiah needs help. And he knows it. If not from the refs, then from his teammates.

But there is something a little ironic (for Wizards fans) listening to Thomas complain about getting knocked to the floor on drives without getting a whistle. John Wall has spent his entire career – including several times in Game 4 – on the ground with no free throws to show for it.

Thomas made his living this season at the line, especially in the fourth quarter. He averaged 8.5 free throws per game in the regular season and is up to 9.3 in the playoffs. Isaiah even mentioned his Top-5 free throw shooting prowess in his post-game remarks, as if to say to the refs, “Don’t you know who I am?”

Credit Washington’s defense for keeping Isaiah from the charity stripe. In Games 1 and 2 they allowed Thomas into the paint and then reached when he elevated for his shot. Marcin Gortat’s unnecessary reach-in foul on Boston’s final possession in regulation in Game 2 is a perfect example.

Scott Brooks said after the game that the reason Thomas was kept off the free throw line is that the Wizards big men were defending with their hands up:

“Like all the great players in this league, they see your hands down they are going to go through it and they’re going to get easy calls. Got to keep our hands high… I thought our bigs did a good job of staying vertical and it’s hard to do when he’s penetrating to the basket, but our guys were really disciplined tonight. Got to do it again Wednesday.”

It is a lesson Gortat – especially — learned during the three day break between Games 3 and 4. They do not need to reach. Given Isaiah’s diminutive size, it’s enough of a distraction to simply raise your hands towards the sky. Gortat kept himself between Isaiah and the basket and let his body do the defending – not his hands. The other key was recognizing that on the rare occasions when Thomas drives right, he almost always attempts a low-percentage, twisting, fade-away drive that is more a plea for a foul than an actual shot.

Isaiah did go off for a little in the first half, but it was more of an aberration than a sign of things to come. Thomas hit three 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game and two more in the first minute of the second quarter. The last of those five first-half 3-pointers gave Boston a 30-20 lead.

Almost every one of Isaiah’s shots was wide open, either due to confusion on pick and roll coverage or lackadaisical transition defense. It was enough to give Washington fans flashbacks to Game 2.

But things were different this time. Scott Brooks called a timeout after Isaiah’s final 3-pointer and implored his team to focus on defense. They responded. Thomas, who had 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting (5-for-5 3FG) up to that point, only scored four more points the entire rest of the game.

Washington’s second half defense was especially effective. Isaiah only attempted three shots in over twelve minutes and turned the ball over five times. It was a team effort but the lion’s share of the credit goes to Beal. He shadowed Isaiah the entire court and passed him off to teammates when he weaved his way around screens. Isaiah had no daylight and he often gave the ball up to teammates early in the shot clock, leaving them to fend for themselves against Washington’s swarming defense.

Wall said after Game 4 that he thinks Washington is now in control of the series. It is easy to see why. Isaiah Thomas is the head of Boston’s snake and he has proven to be vulnerable during the last two games. The series swings to Boston for Game 5 on Wednesday and it is up to Celtics coach Brad Stevens to make some adjustments to free up Thomas’ offensive game.

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Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.