WALTHAM, Mass. — Isaiah Thomas just recorded the second-best scoring season in Celtics history. That’s no small feat for a guy who came off the bench for Boston just two seasons ago.
And while Thomas’ success mostly is a testament to his own hard work, the Celtics point guard also has benefited from others around him — most notably newcomer Al Horford.
Horford signed a maximum contract to join the C’s last summer, and while he hasn’t exactly put up maximum contract numbers, he’s managed to contribute in other ways. Just ask Thomas, who directly credits Horford for helping take his game to the next level.
“I remember earlier in the year, (Horford) told me one time, ‘I’m here to make things easier for you. You’re going to lead this team, and I’m going to make it as easy as possible,'” Thomas told reporters Friday after the Celtics’ practice session. “And he meant that. He’s been exactly what he said since Day 1.”
That entails doing the little things to take the heat off Thomas and help him thrive offensively.
“He opens the floor up for me,” Thomas added. “He sets really good screens — one of the best screen-setters that I’ve played with — and he just knows how to play. I don’t always have to bring the ball up. He knows where I like to be on the court and I know where he likes to be.”
Thomas’ incredible season — an Eastern Conference-leading 28.9 points per game, a career-high 46.3 shooting percentage — helped lift the Celtics to the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed, but Horford isn’t surprised by the 5-foot-9 guard’s stellar play.
“One of the big reasons I was coming here was because of him, and the potential that I saw in him as a player,” Horford said Friday. “Obviously it’s about the team, but he’s a big part of what we do. So, I just wanted to make sure that I let him know that I was going to try to help him as best as I could to make the game easy for him.”
Mission accomplished — so far.
Let’s hit a few other notes out of Friday’s practice as Boston prepares for its first-round playoff matchup with the Chicago Bulls, which begins Sunday night at TD Garden.
— A familiar face will return to Boston on Sunday in Bulls guard Rajon Rondo, who won a title with the C’s in 2008. Avery Bradley and Gerald Green are the only current Celtics who played with Rondo in Boston, and the former raved about Rondo’s competitiveness.
“His desire to win, I don’t know many people (like that),” Bradley told reporters. “He’s so competitive. It doesn’t matter what we’re playing. If we’re playing tic-tac-toe, he wants to win every single game.”
Rondo’s Connect Four opponents can attest to that.
— Rondo may be expecting a hostile environment at the Garden, but Thomas doesn’t understand how Celtics fans can boo a guy who brought a ring to Boston.
“He won a championship here, so they love the guy,” Thomas said. “There won’t be no bad feelings. I’ve heard that if you win a championship here, they’re going to love you forever. So, he’s earned that.”
— Your daily reminder that Boston’s future still is bright: Maine Red Claws forward Abdel Nader on Friday was named the D-League Rookie of the Year for the 2016-17 season.
Nader, whom the Celtics selected 58th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, averaged 21.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 40 games for the Red Claws this season.
Thumbnail photo via Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Images