BOSTON -- Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas admitted before Wednesday's game that he was worried about his first fall and so it seemed to take a minute for him to react when he hit the parquet floor hard in the final minutes of the first half while absorbing a charge from former teammate Goran Dragic.
And then came the audible groan as Thomas reached for the bruised lower back that had sidelined him the previous eight games, then rolled onto his side in obvious discomfort. Four teammates scrambled over to peel him off the ground, though he likely would have preferred another moment or two to collect himself.
Thomas endured a lackluster return while putting up four points on 2-of-7 shooting over 20 minutes during Wednesday's 93-86 loss to the Miami Heat. He turned the ball over three times and missed three free throws, then suggested it might have been the first time in his NBA career he'd missed three straight from the charity stripe. Thomas went so far as to dub it, "one of the worst games I've ever played."
Thomas' struggles were about the only thing that cushioned his first hard fall.
"I was playing so bad, I didn’t even care about the fall, honestly," said Thomas. "It hurt -- the initial hit when I took the charge -- but other than that, I was all right."
Thomas looked little like the speedy, point-creating dynamo we saw over his first 10 games after joining Boston at the trade deadline. He appeared to be hurting and his limited mobility made it tough for him to stay in front of Dragic, who routinely torched Boston with his speed throughout the first half.
Thomas played less than seven minutes in the second half as Boston leaned on a hodgepodge lineup to fuel their fourth-quarter charge.
"There's no excuses, I have to play better," said Thomas. "I'm my biggest critic, I have to come out and play better, offensively and defensively."
But Thomas was also adamant that he did not come back too soon from injury. He blamed rust, but said he'll work through those woes. Coach Brad Stevens plans to talk with Thomas about his health moving forward.
"Obviously, my bigger concern is, 'How’s he doing?' because he was a little bit out of rhythm tonight, so hopefully that was just a rhythm thing and not how he’s feeling," said Stevens. "That’s what I want to know and we’ll talk about that more. Guys aren’t going to be that honest during the game because they want to play, at least the really competitive ones are that way, and he’s a really competitive one."
Thomas got a loud ovation from the crowd when he checked in for the first time midway through the first quarter. But his presence wasn't enough to light a fire under a sluggish Boston team over the first three quarters.
Asked if he'd be able to play on Friday, Thomas was emphatic he'd be on the floor. And playing better than what we saw on Wednesday.
• Good rally, bad shots: The Celtics rode a lineup of Phil Pressey, Marcus Smart, Luigi Datome, Jae Crowder, and Jonas Jerebko while mounting a feverish fourth-quarter rally that trimmed a 22-point deficit to five before the Heat closed out the win. Pressey provided the needed energy and scored nine points while aggressively attacking the hoop, while Crowder added 12 fourth-quarter points (with the benefit of nine free throw attempts). But the unit seemed to rush shots late after getting within two possessions late.
"In the fourth quarter, they played with great emotion and hard as heck and got us back into it, but then we didn’t make very good decisions or play with poise, which sometimes happens when you’re trying to mount a furious comeback," said Stevens. "You kind of carry that fervor on and we were right there in a two-possession game and I thought we shot some really tough shots when we could have kept moving it and gotten better looks."
•Sticking with the guys that got them there: Boston's energy lineup seemed to run out of fuel in the final three minutes after pulling within seven. The Celtics missed six of their final seven field goal attempts from the floor (and some free throws in that span, too). But Stevens was adamant he was sticking with the guys that got the team back in the game.
"It was those guys' game," said Stevens. "Those guys deserved to play at the end of that game. I've said that before. Phil hasn't shot it from 3 with a great percentage, but other that, we had guys that have made big shots for us or are great shooters. Marcus didn't shoot well tonight, but he's made big shots in the past; Jae Crowder's made huge shots the whole time he's been here; then Gigi's probably the best shooter on our team."
•No harm, technical foul: Crowder and Miami's Mario Chalmers got matching technicals for a brief second-half dustup. The two appeared to get tangled chasing a rebound and Crowder tossed Chalmers to the floor with the Miami guard pulling him along. Said Crowder: "I wasn't trying to have a conversation. We talked after and we were like, 'I don’t understand the double tech.' We got tangled up, but we got up and we didn’t say anything to each other. If anything, it's a double [personal] foul, we were both going for the ball and he had me wrapped up."