Watch CBS News

Robb: Isaiah Thomas Rescues Celtics Off Bench In Season Opener

By Brian Robb, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- The names may have changed, but the Celtics stayed true to last year's winning script in Boston's season-opening 112-95 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.

The new-look starting lineup got off to a rough start (sound familiar?), digging the Celtics into an early hole as rookie Jahlil Okafor particularly wreaked havoc against Tyler Zeller and the Boston frontcourt. The Sixers led by as many as nine points in the first quarter, taking the air out of an energized Garden crowd who wondered how the worst team in the league was having its way with the green.

Instead of panicking, Brad Stevens quickly turned to his bench to help. Jared Sullinger was summoned to slow down Okafor, aided by timely double teams from his teammates. Isaiah Thomas also joined Smart and Bradley in the backcourt, as Stevens regularly elected to go small against Philly's formidable frontline of Nerlens Noel and Okafor.

Thomas shook off a slow start (0-for-4) in the first quarter, to serve as a stabilizing force for Boston's offense the rest of the way The speedster didn't have his jumper falling (1-for-6 from downtown), but he got to the rim at will against the Sixers' backcourt, helping turn around the game in the process, as he was a key component of Boston's 21-2 second-quarter run.

The 5-foot-9 guard talked after the game about how he didn't let his slow start deter him from taking command.

"I work on [my shot] – each and every day," Thomas explained. "I know that some point in time, it's going to fall. I have that confidence in my game, and I work on my craft, so I think the harder you work, and when it doesn't happen in games, you go to what you know. When I get into the spots that I like to go to in my workouts, and feeding off my teammates. ... No matter if I'm having a good game or not, you have to just make the right play out there. If the right play is to shoot, and I'm not making them, I have to continue to shoot that shot."

Stevens echoed those sentiments after the game about Thomas.

"That's the biggest thing," Stevens said of Thomas' shooting, "We've talked quite a bit about that: play with speed, play aggressive, play with spirit, let the chips fall where they may with him."

Thomas took those words to heart as he looked like an All-Star over the final three frames. His box score line over those 23 minutes of action: 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, 6-of-7 from the free-throw line, five assists, and a plus/minus of plus-19.

"That's my job," Thomas said of his play. "I'm not going to be shy when I got a job to do out there. Coach has confidence in me. My teammates have confidence in me, and they tell me to continue being aggressive – so I'm going to continue to do that."

The challenge will get a little bit tougher for Thomas and his teammates in the coming days. Instead of playing against a bench full of replacement players on Philadelphia, the Celtics will face a division rival in the Toronto Raptors on Friday night before hosting Tim Duncan and the Spurs on Sunday.

The bench and depth edge won't be quite as pronounced in those contests, but Stevens is already showing the willingness to mix and match with his two units, just like he did last year. With additional talent in place up-and-down the roster, and young players like Thomas that continue to improve, the head coach may not have to change his winning formula much in year three.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.