After taking down the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics find themselves only two games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for first place in the Eastern Conference.
With the recent struggles of the Cavs (who lost to the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night), many are starting to buy in to the Celtics as a legitimate contender to LeBron James's squad for Eastern Conference supremacy.
However, don't count NBA Hall of Famer and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley among the Boston believers.
On Thursday's edition of Inside the NBA on TNT, Barkley explained why he doesn't think the Celtics are the second-best team in the league, as you can see in the video below:
"Isaiah Thomas has to do so much heavy lifting, just like Russell Westbrook," Barkley explains. "Isaiah Thomas has to make every important basket. That to me is the weakness of the Boston Celtics."
Barkley likes what Thomas is doing this season, listing him among the top two or three MVP candidates this year, but added that he thinks teams like the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors (once Kyle Lowry is healthy again) have more late-game threats than the Celtics.
Barkley may be right that other teams have multiple All-Star caliber threats, but it's hard to deny what Thomas has accomplished this season. His 29.4 points-per-game average is second only to Westbrook and his fourth-quarter scoring average is tops in the NBA.
Plus, the Celtics have 41-24 with Thomas leading the way - neither the Wizards nor the Raptors, even with their top-tier talent, have been able to match that. So, while the Celtics may indeed run into trouble against the Cavaliers in the playoffs, it's unwise to assume that the Raptors and Wizards can overtake Boston, as neither team has been able to do that as of yet.
And, when looking at the numbers, Boston actually does have a pretty decent second option - guard Avery Bradley, who is averaging 16.9 points per contest this season. From there, big man Al Horford (13.9 points per game) and forward Jae Crowder (13.7) also provide help to Thomas.
Still, the Celtics live and die with Isaiah Thomas. If he struggles, the Celtics struggle. But the 5'9" point guard has shown coach Brad Stevens that he can be trusted to carry the load in clutch situations.
If IT can continue to play at an MVP level, the Celtics may end up proving Barkley wrong when the playoffs begin next month.