Isaiah Thomas’ Fourth-Quarter Production Is Unparalleled

After pouring in another monumental fourth-quarter performance in the Celtics 108-98 win over Charlotte on Monday, Isaiah Thomas leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring average.

It is as if once the final 12 minutes of a ballgame begins to wind down, Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas morphs into a certified assassin. Since his return from a groin injury on December 16, Thomas has emerged as the NBA’s king of the fourth quarter, piping in points at an unmatched rate on a nightly basis as soon as the 36-minute mark has been eclipsed.

On Monday night against the Charlotte Hornets, Thomas carried the Celtics to a crucial victory over an Eastern Conference foe vying for playoff position with a surreal showing in the fourth period. With Boston attempting to distance itself from the Hornets once the stanza kicked off, Thomas realized that his quarter had arrived. One minute in, he knocked down a 23-foot jumper to increase the Celtics lead to 83-71 before canning a 26-foot three-pointer 33 seconds later to push the advantage to 13 points. Charlotte proceeded to lessen the deficit to just 88-83 with eight minutes remaining, however, Thomas countered with a midrange jump shot and a thrilling transition three off of a saved loose ball by forward Jonas Jerebko to push the gap back to 10 points.

Just 31 ticks would escape from the clock before Thomas knocked down his third three-pointer of the quarter, and following a short break on the sidelines, he returned to convert a critical hoop to give Boston a 102-96 lead with just 2:19 remaining after five consecutive Hornets points. With 33 seconds left, Thomas carved up Charlotte’s helpless defense, using his patented hesitation dribble to create space for a game-sealing 20-foot jumper that provided Boston with an eight-point advantage.

Thomas’ 17 points in the final quarter pushed his league-leading fourth quarter scoring average to an astounding 10.1 points per game while his 35 total points on the night moved him to a tie for third in the NBA in points per game with 28.4. In the final 12 minutes of contests, Thomas is shooting a remarkable 49.5 percent from the field, 45.1 percent from three-point range, and 89.9 percent from the free-throw line. Generally, we witness players shooting percentages dwindle when late game pressure is applied, as is the case with Thunder point guard and the NBA’s leading scorer per night, Russell Westbrook. He sees his field goal percentage dip from 42.5 percent to 39.7 percent and his three-point percentage fall from 32.7 percent to 27.3 percent in the final five minutes of contests that are decided by five points or less.

For Thomas, the opposite is true. In the last 300 seconds of games decided by five points or less, Thomas shooting percentage jumps from 45.9 percent to 48.5 percent while his three-point shooting rate skyrockets from 38.3 percent to 45.5 percent. In the final three minutes of matchups decided by five points or less, Thomas converts at an astronomical 53.8 percent of his three-point looks. In the last 60 seconds of games decided by five points or less, Thomas’ killer instinct is uncovered as his three-point percentage balloons to a virtually unheard of 66.7 percent.

Thomas has played just the 18th-most clutch minutes in the league this season, however, he has the second-highest amount of clutch points with 118. The owner of third place in this category, Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, has dropped just 94 points in clutch situations. The most impressive part of Thomas’ fourth-quarter explosions is that despite the fact that his scoring barrages tend to begin early in the quarter, they do not cease towards the closing minutes of the game. Although the defense places their toughest defender on Thomas down the stretch of games, he does not balk, averaging 1.9 points per the last minute of games decided by five points or less. Among those who have performed in at least 19 such games, Thomas is second in the NBA only to Westbrook, who puts up an astonishing 2.7 points each time Oklahoma City enters the final minute of a contest with a scoring differential of five points or less. Meanwhile, Thomas’ Celtics are 12-7 in such games while Westbrook’s Thunder are 11-8.

Thomas showcased this ability to harm a team in the final minute of a tightly-contested game on January 13 against the Hawks. With 52 seconds left, Thomas converted what many perceived to be the nail in the Hawks coffin, a three-pointer to give Boston a 101-95 lead. Atlanta fought back to knot the game up at 101 apiece following two three-pointers, however, Thomas was not fazed. Facing Atlanta’s most ferocious perimeter defender in shooting guard Bazemore, Thomas created plentiful separation using the dribble before releasing the game-winning 19-footer with 02.1 seconds remaining on the clock.

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