Suns set to face motivated Celtics' Thomas
Isaiah Thomas is riding the most prolific scoring stretch of his career as he faces the team that gave up on him last year.
There's a good chance he'll stay highly productive Friday night considering the Phoenix Suns have been awful defensively, especially on the road, and they provide the Boston Celtics a great shot to piece together back-to-back wins before leaving town again.
Thomas has averaged 32.3 points in the last three games, easily the highest mark of any stretch that long during his five NBA seasons. He had 17 games of 20 or more points with the Suns last season, but they dealt him to Boston on Feb. 19 for a first-round pick and the since-departed Marcus Thornton.
Three days later, Thomas went back to Phoenix and keyed the Celtics' 115-110 victory -- the teams' only meeting since the trade. The 5-foot-9 point guard scored eight of his 21 points in the final 1:37 and had seven assists, though he did say afterward that there were "no hard feelings" toward the Suns.
This Phoenix team shouldn't provide much resistance, either, after allowing at least 20 points to each of the last three point guards it has faced. The Suns (13-27) have surrendered 109.1 points per game on 49.8 percent shooting while losing 12 of 13.
Those averages are 114.9 and 51.8 percent during their eight-game road losing streak, the team's longest since the 2012-13 season.
Phoenix has lost by an average of 20.6 points in three road games this month, and the first two came to lowly Sacramento and the last-place Los Angeles Lakers. The most recent was a 116-97 defeat at Indiana on Tuesday.
Brandon Knight missed the game with food poisoning, so he should return Friday, but key reserves Alex Len (hand) and Ronnie Price (toe) will sit out again. This will be Phoenix's ninth game since losing top scorer Eric Bledsoe (knee) for the season.
"It's tough, man, it's tough. But you have to keep playing in this league," forward P.J. Tucker said. "The games keep coming. It's especially tough at this time of the year, when you get guys that get sick or that get injured. It's next man up. But you have to keep trying and you have to keep playing."
The Celtics (20-19), meanwhile, are at full strength. They also played the Pacers in their most recent game but with a much different result, winning 103-94 on Wednesday. That game and this one along with a visit from Chicago next Friday are their only home dates in an 11-game span.
Boston had lost a season-high four straight and six of seven before holding Indiana to 40.7 percent from the field and 5 of 30 from 3-point range.
"We didn't do anything differently on offense. We just hunkered down and got stops," said Jae Crowder, who matched a career high with 25 points.
Thomas scored a game-high 28, but many Celtics pointed to Amir Johnson as being the difference. The 11-year veteran, in his first season with Boston, had 14 points, 18 rebounds and six assists.
Johnson has averaged 13.4 points and 10.0 boards over the last five games, far exceeding his season averages. Coach Brad Stevens said he has "really come on big time," though Thomas recognizes his contributions go well beyond the numbers.
"He just does all the little things that the fans don't see in the stat book," Thomas told the team's official website. "That's what type of player he's always been, and that's how he's made his name."