Thornton emerges to play critical role

BOSTON -- The way things had been trending for Boston Celtics guard Marcus Thornton, he needed to do something in order to reverse his fortunes.

Seeing his playing time dip in the team’s last two games -- to the point where he didn’t see time in the second half of either contest -- Thornton seemingly was falling out of favor to fellow reserve Phil Pressey. Instead of continuing that trend on Sunday against the Washington Wizards, the fifth-year guard responded with his best game of the season, putting up 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting off the bench to help the Celtics hold on to a 101-93 win over the Washington Wizards.

Of Thornton’s 21 points, eight came in the fourth quarter, helping to keep Washington from establishing the momentum needed to come all the way back from an 18-point deficit at the start of the quarter.

“It was great,” Thornton said of his much-needed effort. “I just stayed the course. Whatever minutes I get, just try to make the best of it.”

Thornton showed little rust once he took the court at the start of the second quarter. He scored 11 points during his first shift off the bench, proving that focus wouldn’t be an issue despite his recently reduced playing time.

“I’ve been through this before as a rookie so I know what it takes,” Thornton said. “When you’ve got positive teammates, it makes it that much easier too.”

Thornton was at his best when his teammates needed him most as it initially looked like the Celtics would have another fourth-quarter meltdown. Wizards forward Rasual Butler drained two quick 3-pointers, putting the all-too-familiar thought of yet another collapse into the minds of many in attendance. But then came Thornton, who sunk a 3-pointer of his own following Butler’s second and hit another one moments later right after a Jared Sullinger 3-pointer that disrupted the Wizards’ quick-scoring offense, prompting them to convene over a timeout.

After the game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens spoke highly of the performance Thornton put together.

“I’m happy for him. That’s the best part about it,” Stevens said. “Marcus Thornton really played a great game. His shots when things weren’t going our way, too, were big. He hit a three when they had cut it inside 10. Every shot matters, and he hit a lot of big ones in just 17 minutes.”

Meanwhile, Thornton was quick to credit teammate Rajon Rondo for his success. On his way to his second triple-double of the season, Rondo assisted on four of Thornton’s seven field goals.

“With a guy like that on your side, it makes it much easier to go out there and play your game,” Thornton said. “It’s great to play with him.”

Riding a season-long three-game winning streak, the Celtics have a quick turnaround as they get set for a rematch against the Wizards on Monday night in Washington. And although Sunday was just one game, it could go a long way confidence-wise for a team that has struggled with consistency in the early going this season.

At the very least, it could go a long way for Thornton, who went from being on the downswing with the team in their last two games to playing a pivotal role on Sunday.

“It was big for us,” Thornton said. “Winning cures everything. It helps a lot. We’re just trying to carry this momentum into Washington tomorrow and hopefully get another one.”