By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) – In the opening moments of Game 5 at Phillips Arena in Atlanta, one element of the Hawks' defensive game plan became quite clear: Don't let Isaiah Thomas beat us.
The All-Star, who had scored 70 points over Games 3 and 4 in Boston, was dealt a rude awakening by Atlanta's top-rated Eastern Conference defense on Tuesday night. A couple of defenders were waiting for him whenever he ran a pick-and-roll or caught the ball coming off the pick.
That trapping strategy led to Thomas' lowest scoring output of the season. The point guard scored a mere seven points on 3-of-12 shooting, as he was forced to get rid of the ball while facing the constant traps.
"That was their game plan," Thomas said of the trapping. "They put two or three guys on me every time I touched the ball. Their game plan was to let the other guys beat us. It should be a sign of disrespect to my teammates for them to put two on the ball every time I have it. Other guys have to step up and make plays, that's what it comes down to. If they try to do it again in Game 6, it comes down to other guys making plays. I'm gonna just try to get the ball out as quickly as possible, out of the trap, out of the two or three guys they have on me. But other guys have to make shots, other guys have to make plays for us to win."
Thomas' teammates failed to take advantage of those 4-on-3 situations in Game 5 when Atlanta ran a pair of defenders at the 26-year-old guard. Boston sans Thomas shot a mere 40 percent from the field and 28 percent from 3-point range, despite having plenty of wide-open looks throughout the evening. Officially, Boston hit just 27.5 percent of their uncontested shots, compared to a scoring 46.9 percent for the Hawks.
Brad Stevens credited Thomas for the way he handled the pressure after the game, despite the team's lack of success.
"They trapped a lot of Isaiah's pick-and-rolls, obviously," Stevens said. "They were very extended on that, which forces other guys to handle and make plays and make shots. At times we did, and at times we didn't do as well. ... I thought Isaiah did a really good job of just getting rid of the ball. That's what you have to do when you're being trapped, and making the right basketball play. In that first 18 minutes, I thought we were playing really well."
Boston held a 31-21 lead at the 18-minute mark of the game, before the Hawks turned the tide and outscored Boston 91-54 in the final 30 minutes. The Hawks' offense got rolling and the Celtics simply didn't have an answer on the offensive end with Thomas taken out of the picture.
"It's tough for me because I feel like I can score on anything," Thomas explained Tuesday night. "As a point guard, I gotta make the right play. And I gotta trust my teammates. And I know once my teammates are knocking down the shots or make the right play out of the double-team, it's going to open up for me throughout the game. Today it didn't happen, but we knew they would make adjustments, now we have to make adjustments and other guys have to step up."
With a do-or-die game looming on Thursday for Game 6, Stevens has a day to figure out how to get more out of his offense outside of Thomas. Otherwise, Boston won't be making a return trip to Atlanta.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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