Little man Thomas playing bigger than ever in Boston

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) dribbles up court in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic, Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) dribbles up court in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic, Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

When 6-foot-10, 240-pound Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng flattened 5-9 Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas with a moving screen, the fiery underdog popped right up and got right in Dieng’s face to let him know he wasn’t about to be pushed around.

Thomas has never let his smaller frame hold him back from excelling in the land of giants. In his sixth season in the league, Thomas is playing bigger than ever.

The Boston Celtics guard is averaging a career-high 26.1 points and has helped the Celtics stay afloat while Al Horford and Jae Crowder missed big chunks of time with injuries. Thomas is averaging more than nine free throw attempts per game, using that fearlessness that turned him into an All-Star to drive the Celtics offense.

“He puts pressure on the defense just because he is in constant attack mode,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s always live. He’s always a threat and he’s got great explosion in his drives.”

Dieng’s screen on Thomas, and the fiery guard’s reaction, woke the Celtics up in the second half and helped spark a rally from 13 points down to start the fourth quarter to a 99-93 victory.

“I mean, I’m already little, man,” Thomas said of his reaction to Dieng’s screen. “You don’t need to hit me that hard to get your man open. But when they try to take me out, that’s when I get a little (angry).”

Now that Horford has returned from nine games off because of a concussion and Crowder is working his way back from a sprained left ankle, the Celtics are positioning themselves to start taking off. They play at Miami on Monday, host Detroit and Sacramento on Wednesday and Friday and finish the week at Philadelphia as they try to work their way up the Eastern Conference ladder.

And even though Horford got the big payday over the summer, the green still revolves around the smallest guy on the roster.

“He’s a tough cover,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s got a great hesitation. He’ll throw his body into you. He can sell it. He’s clever. He’s got a lot of different ways he can finish.”

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WELCOME BACK

The New Orleans Pelicans appeared lost through the first three weeks of the season as star Anthony Davis languished in the middle of a banged-up roster with little talent around him. One of the biggest issues was the absence of point guard Jrue Holiday, who missed the first 12 games to be by his wife’s side while she underwent brain surgery.

The Pelicans were 2-10 in those games before Holiday returned and 4-0 in his first four games back in the lineup. Coach Alvin Gentry brought him off the bench to provide some balance and scoring punch while he worked his way back into playing shape.

New Orleans has dropped two in a row following that streak, but Holiday’s presence has the team’s confidence rising.

“In my eyes, he’s one of the top point guards in the league and it showed,” Davis said.

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THE WEEK AHEAD

Some games to note this week:

Washington at Oklahoma City, Wednesday: Former Thunder coach Scott Brooks brings his struggling Wizards to Oklahoma City for the first time since he returned to the sideline.

Houston at Golden State, Thursday: The Warriors’ steadily improving defense will get one heck of a test from James Harden and the Rockets.

Los Angeles Clippers at Cleveland, Thursday: Two of the best teams in the league through the first month of the season meet.

Detroit at Atlanta, Friday: It’s always a party when Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard are in the same building.

Cleveland at Chicago, Friday: Bulls star Dwyane Wade gets to collect on his World Series bet with friend and former teammate LeBron James.

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STAT LINE OF THE WEEK

Kevin Love, Cavaliers: 11 of 14 FG, 8 of 10 3s, 34 points. Nice game, right? Try quarter. Love conjured his stat-stuffing days with the Timberwolves when he exploded in the first quarter against Portland on Wednesday night. It was the highest-scoring first quarter in NBA history and just three off of Klay Thompson’s record for most points in any quarter.