Celtics' Isaiah Thomas is a fourth-quarter killer, but which team is he killing?

Isaiah Thomas is a problem in the 4th quarter. In the Celtics' 113-109 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday, Thomas scored 24 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the final frame. He was incendiary in money time.

Thomas does this kind of thing consistently, rendering his height disadvantage all but moot as he has emerged as one of the premier scorers in the league and a big-time playmaker for a playoff team. He's an All-Star reserve and many feel he was snubbed as a starter, players, coaches and analysts roundly praise his game and guts, and there's even some buzz around him for MVP.

Much of this, again, is on account of Thomas' fourth-quarter heroics. They call him the King of the Fourth for a reason, as he averages 10 points per game in the 4th quarter, shooting 47 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range. The man is a demon in the final frame.

He's not just getting garbage time buckets, either. Thomas is second among key players in clutch-time scoring, averaging five points per contest when the game is within five points in the final five minutes. The Celtics have a ridiculous 122.7 offensive rating when Thomas is on the floor in clutch times. They are unstoppable.

So Thomas is the King in the Fourth, the Celtics are 30-18, and everything's right as rain.

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Except...

Here's the thing.

In that win over the Pistons Monday, the Celtics were outscored by five in the 4th quarter with Thomas on the floor. Let me say that again: Despite Thomas scoring 24 points on his own in the 4th, Boston was outscored and needed clutch free throws from Thomas late just to survive. It was not a solitary event.

In fact, the Celtics have a negative net rating with Isaiah Thomas on the floor in the fourth quarter. That means that, per possession, they are actually outscored by their opponent. That seems impossible given everything I just wrote, but it's true.

For the season overall, the Celtics are plus-2.8 with Thomas on the floor but plus-3.4 with him on the bench, and that comes after Thomas' last 45 days of play where he's been completely en fuego. For much of the season, they were worse overall with Thomas on the floor, which makes you wonder how this will look if Thomas cools off at all.
It's not about his offense, of course.

It's the other end.

Listen, a 122.3 defensive rating in the 4th quarter is just shockingly horrendous. Whatever you think about Boston, they have been bad on that end this season. The Celtics are currently 20th in defense this year.

Now, as it was with Kawhi Leonard, it's here that we have to start with how you need to understand what that fourth-quarter stat means. It doesn't mean that the Celtics' defense is bad because of Thomas, necessarily. It means that with Thomas on the floor, the defense is bad. There can be, and are, a lot of reasons for this, and when you add them all up, you have to at least wonder if the offense, as incredible as it is, isn't worth the tradeoff.

That's a strong assertion, and I'm not making it. I'm simply looking into it.

Let's start here. Is it another teammate dragging Thomas down?

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