The Celtics were down two in the final seconds of the fourth quarter when the Los Angeles Clippers switched 6-foot-11 DeAndre Jordan onto the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Thomas passed the ball to teammate Evan Turner with the full understanding that it was coming right back.
With a bit of momentum charging from above the arc, Thomas used a little stop-and-go move to get inside Jordan. Recognizing the big man's ability to recover with his length, Thomas stepped back outside the paint and, falling away, somehow arced a rainbow over Jordan's outstretched arm and splashed through an overtime-forcing jumper.
That's the way Thomas operated for much of Wednesday night, but especially in a fourth quarter in which he brilliantly dueled with fellow All-Star point guard Chris Paul. Thomas (36 points, 11 assists) scored six points in the final 56 seconds of the regulation as Boston improbably forced overtime. While the Celtics certainly didn't make it easy on themselves, this scrappy bunch found a way to emerge with a gutsy 139-134 triumph over the Clippers, which sends them soaring into the All-Star break.
The Celtics have won 10 of their past 12 games while surging to a 32-23 record and sole possession of the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Over the first 55 games of the season, Boston has stood toe-to-toe with some of the league's tallest giants -- taking both the Clippers and Golden State Warriors to overtime in Boston -- and have forced the rest of the league to take notice of their potential.
"They could make a run," former Celtics and current Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "Listen, they're not scared of anybody. They've got a bunch of junkyard dogs who can play. You better be ready when you play them or you're going to lose to them."
The Celtics should have been sulking into the All-Star break, having let possible wins slip away against the Bucks and Clippers. Thomas wouldn't let that happen on Wednesday. Even as every whistle and bounce seemed to go against the Celtics, Thomas and his teammates kept fighting as if they never believed they'd lose.
So when Boston committed some head-shaking fouls -- Avery Bradley, fresh off an ill-timed foul in Milwaukee 24 hours earlier, committed a pair of fouls that helped Los Angeles score the first six points in overtime and an over-aggressive Jonas Jerebko inadvertently steamrolled Paul trying to Hack-a-Jordan a short time later -- the Celtics never gave up. Even as two key players fouled out in Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder, the Celtics hopped on Turner's back in overtime and pulled away from the incredulous Clippers.
Asked if the Celtics can sense that this might be the start of something big, Crowder did not hesitate in responding.
"We see it’s happening," he said. "It was big for us. We want to take this momentum and go to the second half with it. For sure, we didn't want to drop two going into the All-Star break. We just wanted to focus on this one and get this one, so we’re gonna ride this momentum into the second half."
Could this team look different then in the aftermath of next Thursday's trade deadline? Absolutely. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is armed with the assets to make a big-splash move. Maybe it was just the afterglow of a captivating win, but coach Brad Stevens sounded like a man content to see what this team is capable of.
"I trust our front office to make the right recommendations and the right calls to help our team," Stevens said. "I think it would have to be something unique to continue to help our team. I think that we’ve got a lot of future flexibility and we know that and at the same time we got a hard-playing group of guys. We can get better, we have to get better defensively, get back to guarding the way we want to. We have to limit the turnovers and continue to search for good shots when things are going poorly or well. There’s a lot of room to improve with the group that’s in there. My focus will be on that.
"I will respond anytime [the front office] wants to talk about anything that’s going through their minds, but we haven’t had any of those conversations, nothing of substance. I’m sure that will pick up a little bit as the trade deadline gets closer, but I’m not anticipating my phone ringing off the hook."
You can tell Stevens has an attachment to this team. How could he not with the way it plays? Boston rallied from 19 down in the fourth quarter against Milwaukee on Tuesday and, if not for Bradley's miscue, might have stolen that one. The Celtics had every reason to return home and get steamrolled by one of the best in the West, but they never stopped fighting.
Boston has yet to win over its home market, and most fans in these parts are more fascinated by a big moving truck carrying bats and balls to Fort Myers, Florida, than a hoops team looking for anyone to jump on its pretty bare bandwagon.
They should have no trouble adding passengers to this hype train after Wednesday's win. Even Rivers is swept up in what they're doing.
"I love these guys. I want them to do well," Rivers said. "Not tonight, but any other time I want them to do well."
There's an energy in the Celtics' locker room these days, a desire to find out exactly what this team can achieve. This young roster isn't afraid of dreaming big. As they confirmed again on Wednesday, they're fearless.
"We're at a solid area right now," Thomas said. "The scary thing about it is we know we can do better. We need this rest during the All-Star break to get away from each other and enjoy the time off and get back to it when we play Utah next week.
"I'm excited about what's going on here and we have to continue to put our foot on the pedal."