Wilcox making presence known off C's bench

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Wilcox making presence known off C's bench

BOSTON When the season began, Chris Wilcox was an everyday rotation player who entered games as a first-quarter sub for Kevin Garnett.

Injuries, inconsistent play and the emergence of Jared Sullinger (and to a lesser extent, Jason Collins) relocated Wilcox to near end-of-the-bench status even after he was cleared to play following his most recent ailment.

Sullinger's season-ending back surgery has paved the way for Wilcox to garner more minutes, and the veteran is making the most of the opportunity.

Although the final score in Boston's 116-95 win over the Los Angeles Lakers was decisively lopsided, Wilcox's play off the bench was among the subtle but important contributions in the Celtics victory.

He will look to do more of the same going forward as a viable option for Doc Rivers to turn to when Garnett needs a rest.

"It's just a matter of coming in there and doing our jobs," Wilcox told CSNNE.com. "We know when KG comes out, we have to hold it down and give this team a lift."

Wilcox did just that on Thursday, tallying eight points and a season-high nine rebounds off the C's bench in just 18 minutes of action.

More than his points, Wilcox provided a presence around the basket and on the break that opened things up for either him or his teammates.

And maybe even more significant, he helped the C's keep control of the game when Garnett left with early foul trouble and Boston was clinging to a two-point lead.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers initially turned to Jason Collins, but he picked up three fouls in five minutes.

In came Wilcox with the scored tied. By the time the first quarter ended, Wilcox had helped the C's pull ahead by four points.

Even with his improved play, Wilcox still sees himself as a work in progress with plenty of room to get better.

"I'm getting there," he said. "I have to get my timing down. I missed a couple of easy lobs. But like I said, that just comes with timing. Other than that, I've just been out there playing hard."

But when he wasn't playing, Wilcox was watching his teammates, figuring out what he could do to help once he was healthy enough to resume playing.

"So I know now when I come into the game, what I need to bring," Wilcox said.

Boston is playing a more uptempo game now which C's coach Doc Rivers believes is also beneficial to Wilcox's game.

But the reason he is starting to see an uptick in his minutes, is because his defense is improving.

"I thought defensively he's getting his hands on balls, he's deflecting balls, he was doing the Tyson Chandler, keeping balls alive ... he was doing a great job (against the Lakers)."

And now comes the challenge which has been there for Wilcox all season - being consistent.

"I know what I gotta do," Wilcox said. "Doc's just preaching defense, defense defense so I get out there and start playing defense and it just turns over to offense. It's fun like that.

Wilcox added, "The main thing is winning man. That's why I came here. Anything I can do to help us do that, I'm all for. Because that's all we're about in this locker room, doing whatever you gotta do to help this team win games."

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Celtics-Knicks preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

Celtics-Knicks preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

WALTHAM, Mass. –  As the fourth quarter rolls around, you will occasionally catch Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas looking down at his wrist, a gesture to remind anyone watching what time it is – Thomas time.

There are those who elevate their play in the fourth quarter of games, and then there’s Thomas who continues to smoothly navigate his way in unchartered fourth quarter scoring territory.

The Celtics begin the second half of the season Wednesday night against the New York Knicks, and there sits Thomas atop all players in the NBA when it comes to fourth-quarter scoring.

But that’s not all.

He’s not only dropping more points than any other NBA player in the most important quarter of them all, but he’s doing so at an unprecedented level of 10.1 fourth-quarter points per game.

Since NBA.com/stats began tracking fourth quarter scoring with the 1997-1998 season, no player has averaged more than 9.5 fourth-quarter points (LeBron James, 2006) in a season.

What makes Thomas’ fourth quarter heroics so impressive is that everyone in the building – fans, coaches, opponents – knows that’s when he’s looking to be most impactful for the Celtics and yet he still can’t be stopped.

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford acknowledged how tough it is to limit Thomas despite knowing he’s looking to take over games in the fourth.

“It’s hard because the blitz game is impossible because they don’t roll,” said Clifford whose Hornets were beaten 108-98 by Boston on Monday. “If you watch the teams that try to blitz them, you’re going to give up basically lay-ups. We had things in to get the ball out of his hands but the way they played and the stuff that they usually go to late, they didn’t get to. He (Thomas) made some terrific plays; he’s a terrific offensive player.”

Despite what he does in the fourth and his overall scoring average of 28.2 points which is ranked among the league’s leaders, there are still lots of doubters as to how good Thomas.

Regardless of how you view his play, he has consistently played at a level this season that places him among the game’s best players.

And at the rate he’s scoring in the fourth quarter, he’s establishing himself as one of the great closers in the game.

Consider the list of players in the past decade who led the league in points scored in the fourth quarter.

  • 2016: James Harden (7.7)
  • 2015: Russell Westbrook (7.1)
  • 2014: Kevin Durant (7.9)
  • 2013: Kevin Durant (8.4)
  • 2012: Kevin Durant (7.3)
  • 2011: Amare Stoudemire (7.1)
  • 2010: LeBron James (8.0)
  • 2009: LeBron James (7.7)
  • 2008: LeBron James (9.1)
  • 2007: Dwyane Wade (8.2)

You have All-stars, All-NBA First Teamers, league MVPs as well as a few future Hall of Famers.

As good as those players were in their respective seasons, when the game mattered most – the fourth quarter – Thomas numbers (for now at least) stand head and shoulders above them all.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens gives Thomas a lot of credit for being such a consistent scorer, particularly in the fourth quarter.

But as good as Thomas is, he’s not out there getting all these baskets on his own, either.

“It says a lot about the fact that he’s got a lot of skilled guys around him that are hard to leave,” Stevens said. “When you’re playing Kelly (Olynyk) and Jonas (Jerebko) together with him, there’s a lot of space on the floor to operate. When those guys are at the four (power forward) and five (center), when you’re playing guys like Al Horford who can space the floor or Avery (Bradley) or Jae (Crowder), you know, those types of guys … at the end of the day I think that it’s a combination of a lot of things.”

And for opponents, a lot of problems.

“He’s been playing well,” Hornets guard Kemba Walker said of Thomas. “He’s been playing better than anyone in our league. He’s playing with great confidence and making the plays for his team to win games. He’s been great.”