Chasing legends: Celtics' Isaiah Thomas pulls even with Hondo, eyes Bird

BOSTON -- It's becoming a postgame ritual in Boston. Isaiah Thomas enters a scrum of waiting reporters, and the name of a Boston Celtics legend whose record Thomas either has claimed or is approaching is invoked.It happened again Wednesday night after Thomas...

Chasing legends: Celtics' Isaiah Thomas pulls even with Hondo, eyes Bird

BOSTON -- It's becoming a postgame ritual in Boston. Isaiah Thomas enters a scrum of waiting reporters, and the name of a Boston Celtics legend whose record Thomas either has claimed or is approaching is invoked.

It happened again Wednesday night after Thomas matched John Havlicek's franchise record with his 40th consecutive game with 20 or more points. Thomas scored 33 points, including 13 in his beloved fourth quarter, as the Celtics overcame sloppy play -- with a big boost from Marcus Smart -- to down the Philadelphia 76ers 116-108 at TD Garden.

On Thursday in Chicago, Thomas will have a chance to sneak ahead of Havlicek. What's more, with 51 games of 20 or more points in all this season, Thomas could challenge Havlicek's franchise record of 76 total games with 20 or more points, set during the 1970-71 season. (Havlicek's 20-in-consecutive-games record happened a year later.)

"I always say it: It doesn’t seem real. For my name to be mentioned with such greats and Hall of Famers, it doesn’t seem like it should be like that," Thomas said. "It means I’m doing something well. I’m just glad we’re winning on top of being mentioned with all these great players."

Thomas became only the 17th player in NBA history to score 20 or more points in 40 consecutive games in one season, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Take a minute to examine the other names on that list:

Isaiah Thomas is now one of 17 players to have a streak of 40 straight games scoring at least 20 points (via @eliassports) pic.twitter.com/RkgM1A0UGO

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 16, 2017

That's 12 Hall of Famers, one finalist (McGrady) and three more -- Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant -- who will eventually take their place in Springfield. Then there's Thomas.

When he arrived in Boston in February 2015, he was viewed as a sixth man -- until he kicked down the starting door when it became apparent how desperately Boston needed his scoring talents. Two years later, Thomas is making a run at leading the league in scoring. In fact, he has an honest-to-goodness chance to challenge Larry Bird's franchise record for single-season scoring average.

After he put up Bird's jersey number in points Wednesday, Thomas is averaging 29.88 points per game this season. That's a mere fraction behind the 29.93 points per game Bird averaged during the 1987-88 season.

"I’ve thought about it. It would mean a lot, especially with such great players that played before me," Thomas said when asked about challenging Bird's mark. "But I’m not aiming for it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, I’ll be alright."

Thomas' average sits one point behind Russell Westbrook's in the race for the NBA scoring title. This is no small feat for a player who never averaged more than the 22.2 points per game he posted last season.

Thomas said that leading the league in scoring is a reasonable goal. "I’m confident I can," he said when pressed on whether he thinks he can accomplish the feat.

And why not? There's little Thomas could do this season that would surprise the folks around him on a daily basis. He has injected himself into the MVP race with his play since mid-December, and fans here chant "MVP!" any time possible, including before Wednesday's game, when he received his All-Star jersey from co-owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca in a pregame ceremony.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens still marvels at the way Thomas has been able to score so consistently this season. The only game in which Thomas didn't reach the 20-point threshold was a Nov. 18 loss to the Golden State Warriors in which Stevens pulled Thomas early as the game got away from the Celtics in the second half. Thomas had 18 points that night.

Check out the team site for more game coverage

Check out the team site for more game coverage

"When you know you’re getting 20-plus points from a guy on a given night, it’s a pretty special trait," Stevens said. "It’s pretty special to know that. He’s been amazing with his consistency, regardless of how he feels, regardless of little nicks and bruises and everything else. He just kind of keeps going. And he’s a tough guy, he’s a tough-minded guy, and his consistency’s been impressive. And I think consistency and being able to do it every night is what separates guys [like] Havlicek [and] the great ones."

Thomas continues to be showered with praise from coaches and opponents around the league. Before Wednesday's game, 76ers coach Brett Brown gushed about Thomas and noted that his ability to change speeds is a big reason he has been so effective this year.

"He’s so unassuming, physically. So, like, you look at him, and it’s not like you’re looking at LeBron or somebody that’s tall and all cut up," Brown said. "He’s very sort of unassuming when you just look at him on a court. Then all of a sudden, you start studying him and his ability to control speeds -- he can go from 80 [miles per hour] to 100 back down to 40 back to 90. He really can get you off-balance and create separation.

"And that, because he can shoot, now lets him dance. And get to the rim. And take a hit and finish. And there’s sort of a toughness in him that you may not think if you saw him warming up or just looked at him. So his growth in our league and what he’s done for this program, you really step back and have tremendous respect for what he’s doing."

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