Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics get key plays late to stave off Cleveland Cavaliers

BOSTON — And so the sequel of Roy Hobbs continues. This wasn’t so much a meeting of the East’s top two teams Wednesday as it was a showdown between the planet’s greatest player and Isaiah Thomas, the former No. 60 pick who dreams of replacing LeBron James someday.

“Nobody holds me in check,” said Thomas after scoring his typical 31 points with five assists. “I average 30 points for a reason. I made plays.”

The No. 2 Boston Celtics prevailed 103-99 over the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers because 5-foot-9 Thomas was able to diversify. His run of big plays began with 2:57 remaining when he miraculously stuff-blocked 6-foot-8 Tristan Thompson at the rim.

“I can jump a little bit,” said Thomas. “He didn’t see me — that’s probably the biggest reason why I blocked it.”

Then Thomas engaged most of the defense on his way to feeding Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley for successive 3-pointers to put Boston up 96-94 with 1:09 to go. Next came a dramatic exchange of 3s with Kyle Korver. Thereafter, when Kyrie Irving (28 points) blew by Thomas for a sensational game-tying drive that he finished around Al Horford, Thomas responded with a pair of free throws to restore Boston’s lead with 28.1 seconds remaining.

Irving tried to force OT, but Thomas’s old AAU teammate Bradley — in his second night back after missing 18 straight games with a strained Achilles — forced him to miss a difficult turnaround jumper. When newcomer Deron Williams (2-for-8 in his Cleveland debut) failed to convert a corner 3, the Celtics earned their biggest win of the year. Previously they’d gone 2-7 against Cleveland, the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors — their top three rivals in the East.

“I told our guys this afternoon — and just told them now — I wasn’t as concerned about the result,” said Boston coach Brad Stevens. “I just wanted to play with a real purpose possession to possession, and maximize as many of those as possible. We did a better job with that tonight than we have in a lot of games this year.”

This was a tight back and forth game of elevated importance, as affirmed in the third quarter by a snarling statement dunk from James (amid a…