BOSTON -- The last thing Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas saw before he started his drive into the trees was teammate Jae Crowder buried in the right corner. Thomas figured that would be his "bailout," the spot he'd throw the ball to if the long Milwaukee Bucks' defense clogged his path to the basket.
What Thomas probably didn't count on was being fenced in. Driving from the left side, he had 6-foot-6 Michael Carter-Williams attached to his right hip, while 6-11 Greg Monroe shuffled over with help in front of the basket. Both left their feet to further obscure the view for the 5-9 Thomas. So Thomas did just about the only thing he could do: With his left hand, he blindly threw a pass behind his head and hoped that Crowder was still where he last saw him.
He was. Crowder had to shuffle just a step to his right before catching the pass in rhythm and going up with his shot. The 3-pointer splashed through with 50.6 seconds to play, pushing Boston's lead to seven and essentially sealing a 112-107 triumph at TD Garden.
The excitable Crowder celebrated going back down the court before spotting Thomas and giving him an "Ooooh!" look that let him know just how ridiculous the pass he delivered was.
"I had seen [Crowder] before I threw it," Thomas said, "but when I threw it, I couldn't see him no more, so I'm glad he stayed in that corner and made me look good."
Added Crowder: "We locked eyes right before the defender came over and I didn't know if he was gonna find a way to get it to me, but he saw me for sure before the defender came over. It was a hell of a pass by him."
It was one of two highlight-worthy dishes by Thomas on a night he scored a team-high 27 points on 10-of-21 shooting and handed out seven assists in 33 minutes. The other was just as outrageous when Thomas somehow dribbled between two defenders to get into the paint, and then as Jabari Parker slid over to help from the back line, Thomas threw a no-look pass behind his back that might have even surprised teammate Amir Johnson before he laid it in.
"Unbelievable, man," Johnson said of Thomas' highlight feeds. "I think [the pass to Crowder] was one of the top 5 passes I've seen. The behind-the-back pass to Jae Crowder and the one pass to me -- it was definitely pretty cool to see."
Thomas, a first-time All-Star earlier this month, continues to find ways to dazzle. When the Bucks whittled Boston's double-digit lead to five with little more than six minutes to go, Thomas calmly walked to the scorer's table, checked in and walked backward to the bench knowing a TV timeout would hit before he could get in the game.
When he did get in, Thomas scored seven points in a 94-second span, pushing Boston's lead back to 11 with 3:34 to play. They'd need that cushion when the Bucks made one last charge, but Thomas shifted to distributor mode to secure the win.
"I thought it was the best that [Thomas has] played -- or one of the best games he's played -- against that kind of length," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "In that moment, and they were blitzing and they were trying to keep a bunch of long bodies on him, they switched some, and he just made the right play, whether it was a pull-up, whether it was a drive, whether it was the right pass at the right time. I just thought he did a really good job of that. So he was huge in that five-minute stretch [to close the game]."
Before the game, audio from Arizona sports radio 98.7 KTAR started spreading in which Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, a former assistant GM in Boston, admitted on Wednesday that he wished he had a do-over on the trade that delivered Thomas to Boston at last year's trade deadline.
"I think in retrospect trading Isaiah Thomas when we did was a mistake," McDonough said. "I think, sometimes in the recruitment process, things sound better in July than they do in November. He wanted more, he wanted a bigger role, and I understand why. He's a talented player. In retrospect, we should have carried him into the summer. If there's one [move] that stands out, if I could get a mulligan, that'd be it."
Thomas got wind of McDonough's words on Thursday and took it as a high compliment.
"It felt good to hear him finally say that," said Thomas, whom Boston acquired for Cleveland's 2016 first-round pick and Marcus Thornton. "Like I always say, I'm focused here on the Celtics. I'm not focused on what happened in the past. When I saw that this morning, it was nice to see somebody say something like that."
Thomas admits it has been almost unnerving for him to hear so much praise this season while earning his first All-Star nod. He's always been motivated by detractors and has had to elevate his individual goals to further motivate himself.
"My next goal is that I want to be All-NBA," Thomas said. "I always try to find things to motivate me. I'm a goal-orientated guy who tries to reach all of the goals. That's my next step."
And how exactly can he take his game to another level?
"I need to get a right hand," the left-handed Thomas said. "I don't have one. I've never had one. I made a right-handed layup [Thursday], though. The guys were joking around about it. I'll continue to get better, continue to be a better point guard and a better leader, and take pieces from other people's games and put them into mine."