Celtics' Isaiah Thomas on Hawks' plan: 'A sign of disrespect to my teammates'

ATLANTA -- When Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas turned the corner after taking a handoff midway through the second quarter, he found three white Atlanta Hawks jerseys impeding all possible paths to the basket. Thomas was a bit incredulous. He hadn't seen this sort of attention since his days at Curtis High School, near his native Tacoma, Washington, where opponents used to throw a box-and-one at him.

But even as Boston's early double-digit lead evaporated, Thomas did the only thing he could and made the right basketball play by passing the ball. Thomas gave the ball up on 75.3 percent of his touches (55 passes on 73 touches) during Tuesday's Game 5, a number far north of his regular-season average (68.8 percent; 61 passes on 88.6 touches).

Thomas' teammates failed to fully exploit the opportunities created by all the attention on Thomas, and when Boston's All-Star point guard struggled to generate offense on his own, the Celtics had no response.

Thomas finished with a mere seven points on 3-of-12 shooting in 29 minutes. Adding injury to insult, Thomas hobbled off the court after suffering a mild left ankle sprain early in the fourth quarter of a game the Celtics eventually lost 110-83.

The Hawks lead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series that returns to Boston for Thursday's Game 6.

Thomas was adamant that he'll play Thursday with Boston's season on the line, but he was just as steadfast that his teammates must make Atlanta pay when it puts that sort of attention on one player.

"They put two or three guys on me every time I touched the ball," Thomas said. "Their game plan was to let the other guys beat us. It should be a sign of disrespect to my teammates for [the Hawks] to put two on the ball every time I have it. Other guys have to step up and make plays, that's what it comes down to."

Thomas wasn't trying to throw his teammates under the bus, but he said he was set to embrace the facilitator role and confidently noted, "My guys will be ready. We'll be ready."

Thomas added: "It's tough for me because I feel like I can score on anything. As a point guard, I gotta make the right play. And I gotta trust my teammates. And I know once my teammates are knocking down the shots or make the right play out of the double-team, it's going to open up for me throughout the game. Today it didn't happen, but we knew they would make adjustments. Now we have to make adjustments, and other guys have to step up."

Thomas, booed by fans in Atlanta in much the same way that Dennis Schroder was treated in Boston, went scoreless in the first half while missing four shots. He tried to change his luck by switching into new shoes at halftime, but the Hawks were on such a substantial run that no amount of karma was going to help Boston recover.

In the first 18 minutes, Atlanta shot only 17.6 percent (6-of-34) and was staring at a 10-point deficit after scoring only 19 points in that span. Over the next 18 minutes of game play, the Hawks connected on a preposterous 73 percent of their shots (27-of-37) and pushed their lead as high as 27 while scoring 70 points in that span.

"I think transition started a lot of it," Evan Turner said. "[The Hawks] got a few stops and, in transition, we were scrambling around. They kicked the ball out for some open 3s and from there it just kind of opened up a lot. I think we rotated how we were supposed to and they made a lot of great shots. And they made a great run."

The Celtics never quite settled themselves. Thomas and his teammates are hoping for better composure, particularly on the offensive end, in Game 6.

"We've got to make plays. We've got to attack it," Marcus Smart said. "Obviously, if they're doubling it means they're a man short. It means we have the advantage. We've just got to attack that advantage."

Said Thomas: "A team never really did what [the Hawks] did today. They really just had two or three guys on me the whole time, face-guarding me. When I got in [the paint], they showed all five guys, they [weren't] worried about anybody else. Guys have to adjust, guys have to make plays. Once we make shots like we do at home, make plays like we do at home, they can't do that to us."

Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked how his team regroups before Game 6.

"I don’t think there’s any need to light into anybody or give the Knute Rockne speech in Game 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference playoffs," said Stevens. "I just think you get ready for the next one, you prepare really well, and you hope to come out the way we came out, which was focused and ready. We just didn’t sustain it."