BOSTON -- Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, who had scored 41 and 44 points in his past two games, said he was unaware that no player in franchise history had ever scored 40 in three straight games until he reached the locker room following Friday's 113-107 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Thomas's point total for the night: 38.
"I didn’t know about it, or I would have shot the last shot," joked Thomas, who scored 17 of his points in the final quarter but simply watched as the Celtics dribbled out the clock in the final seconds of the win.
Thomas continued an absurd week that included scoring 24 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter of a win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday, cementing his Player of the Month status for January. He opened February by scoring 19 of his 44 points in the fourth quarter of a win over Atlantic Division rival Toronto that helped earn Brad Stevens a trip to New Orleans to coach Thomas and the Eastern Conference All-Stars.
After dissecting every defense the Lakers threw at him in the final quarter, Thomas was asked if he's filling the star void in this rivalry since Kobe Bryant retired after last season.
"You can't put my name with Kobe," Thomas said. "Maybe 15 years from now, hopefully. But I'm not close to him."
Well, he is in at least one way. Thomas pushed his fourth-quarter scoring average up to 10.7 points per game Friday. Not only is Thomas the NBA's leading fourth-quarter scorer this season, he's on pace to smash Bryant's record of 9.5 points per game in the fourth quarter set in 2006. What's more, Thomas currently owns the highest single-quarter scoring average since tracking by quarter began two decades ago.
Consider this: Thomas averages more points in the fourth quarter of games this season than 328 of the league's 458 players average overall. Thomas is averaging more points in the fourth quarter than 11 of his teammates do overall.
Thomas' scoring outbursts used to be noteworthy because he's only 5-foot-9. But he has muscled his way into the MVP conversation alongside James Harden and Russell Westbrook because what he's doing is notable for a player of any size.
"It has nothing to do with his height," Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. said. "He's one of the best players in the league, period."
Thomas is second in the NBA in scoring, averaging 29.7 points. He's set to make a run at Larry Bird's franchise record of 29.9 points per game set in the 1987-88 season.
Thomas might have missed out on setting a franchise mark for 40-point games Friday, but he still has a chance to etch his name among Boston legends for other offensive streaks. Thomas has scored 35 points or more in Boston's past four games, the longest streak by a Celtics player since Paul Pierce did it four times in 2001.
The Clippers' Pierce, who is in the last season of his storied career, plays his final game at TD Garden on Sunday and will get an up-close look at Boston's new go-to guy. Thomas was told that Pierce had showered him with praise in advance of Sunday's game, including telling the Boston Globe that Thomas is a "championship-caliber player."
"That means everything," Thomas said. "From a first-ballot Hall of Famer, a Celtics legend, to say that about me, that means a lot. Like I always say, I don't care what anybody says but my peers and the people who did it before me. For a guy like that to say that, that's crazy. I'm going to try to find his jersey so I can get it signed."
Maybe Thomas can finagle another sit-down chat like the one he had when Bryant played his final game at TD Garden last year. Thomas came away from that meeting with added motivation to take his game to another level and has done that this season.
For all his offensive wizardry, Thomas credited Marcus Smart's defense with turning around Friday's game. The Lakers came out hot, scoring 21 points over 5:38. Smart subbed in soon after and filled up his stat line, which included five steals and seven assists.
Smart literally started ripping the ball out of the hands of Lakers players and swung the momentum of the game.
"[Smart] was the key to everything," Thomas said. "For us turning that game around, he was the key. He had the most energy out of all of us. He got defensive stops."
Added Smart: "Those guys came out real hot, hitting a couple shots and feeling real good about themselves, and the whole time Brad was just preaching, 'If we give these guys a rhythm, it's going to be a hard team to beat.' I just wanted to come in and stop their rhythm early."
Thomas scored 12 first-quarter points, then went quiet in the middle frames. It seemed as if Los Angeles might have taken him out of his rhythm, but then the fourth quarter arrived. And it didn't take long before Thomas was pointing at his wrist, reminding everyone what time it was.
"I'm just doing what the guys need me to do," Thomas said. "When the fourth quarter comes, this whole team looks for me to be aggressive and make plays. They're the ones reminding me what time it is, and it's the fourth quarter, and we need you to be you. So my job throughout the whole game is to make plays and make the right play. But especially in the fourth quarter, they're looking for me to do the right thing."