Of all the ridiculous offensive numbers that Boston Celtics All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas has put up this season, there may be none more impressive than this: Thomas is averaging a league-best 34.2 points per game on the second night of back-to-backs.
In a league that's trying desperately to cut down on the number of back-to-backs and game-heavy stretches, Thomas is the anti-DNP Rest movement. The 5-foot-9 guard saves some of his best basketball for when he's had the least rest. What's more, Thomas is averaging more than three points better than his nearest competitor (Russell Westbrook, 30.9) for scoring on the second nights of back-to-backs.
The only player in the last 20 years to average more points per game on the second nights of back-to-backs is one of Thomas' idols, Allen Iverson, who averaged 34.9 points during the 2004-05 season.
"I know the thing about back-to-backs, you just have to lock in a little bit more," said Thomas. "It’s more mental than anything because you’re tired. You’re obviously tired from playing the night before. I just try to stay locked in, try to take advantage of my opportunity, and make the plays my teammates need me to make."
The Celtics are 8-3 in the second game of back-to-backs this year thanks in large part to Thomas. In his last seven games on the tail end of back-to-backs, he's averaging 39.1 points per game, which included a 52-point outburst against the Miami Heat in late December. Thomas set a franchise record by producing a 29-point fourth quarter that night.
That Miami game came at the end of an absolutely brutal December schedule that saw Boston fly halfway around the world as part of 15 flights in a road-heavy slate.
The Celtics had a more agreeable January in terms of road games but this month's schedule featured four sets of back-to-backs, including one instance of the much-feared stretch of four games in five nights. Boston went 3-1 during that stretch, which culminated with an overtime victory in Milwaukee on Saturday.
Thomas scored 37 points while carrying the Celtics early in that Milwaukee game. Despite all his fourth-quarter heroics this season -- he leads the NBA by averaging 10 points per game in the fourth quarter -- even Thomas looked mortal while going scoreless over the final 9:33 of Saturday's game. That his teammates were able to pick him up was an encouraging sign for Boston.
The Celtics play six more back-to-backs this season. Maybe coach Brad Stevens needs to start running Thomas through simulated games on offdays to ensure he's at peak performance on game nights.
Thomas' splits by the amount of rest are uncanny. He plays more minutes, scores more points, and shoots more efficiently from the field with the least amount of rest. It's likely a reflection of his teammates being tired as well but Thomas has routinely stepped up in those situations.
The Celtics play their 14th and final game of January on Monday night when they host the Detroit Pistons. Thomas is averaging 32.3 points per game this month and has an outside shot at making a run at Paul Pierce's team record for points per game in a month (33.5 in February 2006).
Thomas would need to score 50 points in order to pass Pierce and, while that sounds unlikely, you can't rule it out based on Thomas' exploits this season (though maybe it'd be more likely if Boston had played Sunday).
Thomas will, however, emerge as the best January scorer in franchise history. Larry Bird averaged a franchise-best 29.5 points per game during the 1987-88 season, according to ESPN Stats and Info, but Thomas could go scoreless and still finish ahead of Bird.