West surprises in his return to action

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West surprises in his return to action

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Usually when players are out of action for a while, there's noticeable rust upon their first game back.

Delonte West wasn't perfect on Wednesday, but for a guy who had been sidelined for the past couple of weeks because of a sprained ankle, he didn't look any worse for wear in helping the Celtics defeat the Indiana Pacers, 92-80.

West had two points and three assists, which isn't exactly the kind of high-impact return that catches your eye.

But that's the beauty of West's game. Numbers mean little.

His impact on the game, however, is undeniable.

Following the win on Wednesday, coach Doc Rivers didn't sound convinced that West had been idle the past couple of weeks while his ankle healed.

"He's been playing somewhere," Rivers said. "Because his rhythm was too good. He's been in a rec league, or something."

No, he's just hungry to get on the floor and make the most of a season that by anyone's estimation, hasn't quite gone according to plan.

When the Celtics signed West, they did it with the knowledge that he would begin the season serving a 10-game suspension for pleading guilty to weapons charges last summer.

But a broken wrist injury along with a sprained ankle have limited West to eight games -- no, make it nine following his return on Wednesday.

Although West acknowledged he felt a bit winded on Wednesday, he didn't look like a guy who had missed such a significant portion of the season.

"I have fresh legs still from the summertime," West said. "I've just been sitting around, waiting for my opportunity to get out there."

And when that opportunity came, West made the most of it.

His game offensively is still a work in progress, but he's ready to roll defensively.

While his on-the-ball defense is a strength, West showed that he can play defense above the rim as well.

About halfway through the fourth quarter, Indiana's Paul George drove into the lane for what appeared to be a lay-up or a dunk. Out of nowhere came West to block the shot.

It was one of several strong plays made defensively by West.

"Well, that's just him," Rivers said. "I mean, he's a tough dude."

And it is that toughness from West that the Celtics will count on the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs.

"He's such a poised player," said Paul Pierce, referring to West. "Even though he has been out for so long, you can see how he kind of smoothes out the second unit. Especially with his passing, his defense and his hustle."

And while West's strong return may have surprised some, don't count Pierce among them.

"The first time he came back from the wrist injury, he seemed pretty sharp after missing a couple months," Pierce said. "He does a good job of being in the gym, staying in shape, doing the necessary things it takes to be ready when he steps out there."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

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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.”