The Celtics being the Celtics, it’s not easy for today’s players to muscle their way into the history books. There’s simply too much success, too many parades and rallies and magic moments, too many Hall of Famers, too many retired numbers floating from the Garden rafters.

And so when Isaiah Thomas scored 42 points in the Celtics’ 111-103 Game 3 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night at the Garden, it’s a safe bet that a lot of people – fans, team officials, players, perhaps even Isaiah himself – were wondering if it was good enough to get mentioned in the same breath as some of the legends.

What, 42 points? In the playoffs? That doesn’t happen very often, even on the Celtics? Right? Right.

Prior to Friday night, it had only happened 20 times in the glorious history of this franchise. And only eight players – John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Larry Bird, Reggie Lewis and JoJo White – had 40-point playoff games.

It’s a short enough list, and Thomas played a big enough game, that no sooner had he arrived in the postgame interview room when an enterprising reporter read off the names of the Celtics’ 40-point playoff scorers and then more or less said, “Well?”

“I’m just glad we got the win, first and foremost,” he began, and, sure, that’s the right thing to do, but he quickly got to this: “That makes me happy. Just to be in the same category as those great players. I just want to follow in the footsteps of all the Celtics greats.”


This is important information, given the monumental task Danny Ainge – Celtics president of basketball operations – faces each offseason as he tries to assemble talent and build a winner. It’s been said that Boston isn’t exactly “A” list for prospective free agents, that the city is a wintertime ice box, that it lacks the sizzle and star power of New York and Los Angeles.

Today’s NBA stars are not interested in dusty history books and old playoff stories. Until, that is, one of those history books is cracked open for the purpose of adding the name of one of today’s stars.

That’s what happened Friday night. With the Celts returning home in an 0-2 series hole against the Hawks, somebody needed to step up, make some noise, score some points. Thomas scored some points. And then some more points. And still more points.

And remember Game 2, in Atlanta, when the Celtics fell behind 24-3 in the first quarter? Friday night they jumped out to a 19-6 first-quarter lead. By the end of the quarter they led 37-20.

Thomas provided 16 of those 37 points.

Yes, the Hawks climbed back into the game in the second half and actually snatched a lead, and for a while the game was a “Rocky” fight, but make no mistake: Thomas’ 16 first-quarter points set a tone. And his 42 points made it possible for him to sit at the playoff table with the likes of Havlicek, Bird and Pierce.

He noted that sitting at that table starts with winning championships. And while that’s a longshot for this year’s Celtics, these odds have not been presented to Thomas. So he’ll continue to shoot, shoot so much that Coach Brad Stevens, asked if Thomas has a green light, said simply, “You can’t get any more green than playing here. He can shoot it whenever he’s open or thinks he’s open.”

He took enough shots that the Hawks’ Kyle Korver had a hard time sorting them out. Asked if he felt a Thomas 3-pointer with 1:53 remaining had a demoralizing effect, he replied, “I don’t even remember the play, to be honest with you. He made a bunch of big shots, bunch of tough shots.”

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