Due to a production error, this column was published in truncated form. The following is the full piece.

Isaiah Thomas' fourth quarter exploits are must-see TV

By Nick Tavares
Present Tense

Feb. 5, 2017

There’s so much nonsense in the culture and on TV right now. It’s a sentiment that’s always true to some degree, but feels exaggerated now.

So we look for escape, for something we haven’t seen before or at least haven’t seen in some time. Happily, every couple of days, it’s there.

It’s the fourth quarter, the Celtics are playing it close and Isaiah Thomas is capable of bursting out on a scoring rampage at any moment to help Boston win a game and keep momentum rolling.

It’s happening so often that it feels routine. But what Thomas is doing is must-see every night. And the result has the Celtics contending for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and Thomas himself generating award buzz.

It’s anything but nonsense. The crowds in TD Garden chanting his name and clad in his green no. 4 are real, and they’re happily cheering for the exciting spin he brings to basketball.

He told the Boston Globe recently that he wasn’t necessarily happy with his jersey no. 4, but turned around a little bit when a reporter pointed out that it had become emblematic of the way he’s owned the fourth quarter.

The way he takes over at the end of games — out of necessity and, apparently, pure will — has been incredible. And after starting slower than they’d like, the Celtics are winners of six of their last seven and reaching another gear.

And in his efforts to push them to that next plane, Thomas has injected himself into the Most Valuable Player conversation.

After Friday night’s matchup with the Lakers, Thomas just ahead of Houston’s James Harden and just behind Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in scoring, with 29.9 points per game. His 6.3 assists place him in the top 15 in the league, and he’s there in the clutch whenever a game is tight in the fourth quarter.

Those late-game fireworks are contributing to his award talk as much as anything — it’s not easy to crash the awards talk when Harden and Westbrook are trading triple doubles every other night. Of Thomas’ nearly 30 points a game, 10.7 are coming in the fourth quarter alone.

He picked up another 19 in the fourth quarter against Toronto on Wednesday to help keep the Celtics in first place in the Atlantic Division and within spitting distance of Cleveland for tops in the conference. That was the 10th time this season he’s topped 15 points in the final period. And he did it again against the Lakers on Friday, putting up 21 of his 38 points in the fourth to seal a 113-107 win.

This goes beyond just being a handy sparkplug on a scrappy team looking to make noise, and it’s far beyond the “pretty good for a 5’9” guy” talk that has followed Thomas his entire career. His play has him sitting on the edges of the game’s elite. This is real, and it could stretch the Celtics’ season into the summer if it keeps clicking.

Does that mean the Celtics going to win a championship this year? Will Thomas steal an MVP? Stranger things have happened, but putting money on either might be stretching the budget.

But they’re both in play. It’s incredible and it’s made for one of the better shows in town. Tune in and try to enjoy it before it flickers away.

Nick Tavares' column appears Sundays in The Standard-Times and at SouthCoastToday.com. He can be reached at nick@nicktavares.com