The Boston Celtics found themselves in a 16-0 hole in the first quarter. They didn’t grab a rebound, couldn’t buy a bucket, and looked out of sorts on both ends of the floor. Boston looked like a shell of the team that snagged the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.
And then Isaiah Thomas showed exactly why he’s the closest thing to Allen Iverson the NBA has seen.
The 5’9 guard destroyed the Washington Wizards on Sunday, scoring 33 points on 11-of-23 shooting to lead Boston to a 123-111 Game 1 win of its second-round playoff series. He shot 5-of-11 from downtown, snapping an abysmal first-round stretch of 3-of-26 three-point shooting.
Thomas did it under surreal circumstances, having lost his younger sister in a car accident just a day before the playoffs began and attending her funeral the day before the second round. The All-Star guard even lost his front tooth for good measure.
“Basketball, when I’m on the court it just keeps me going,” Thomas said in his postgame interview with Doris Burke. “I do everything for my sister now, and that’s all I can do.”
Boston was already going to be short on rest with just one day off between its Game 6 win over the Chicago Bulls and Game 1 against Washington. Thomas likely hasn’t slept well since he first got the news, and Saturday was no different.
Right after Boston eliminated the Bulls in the first round on Friday, the Celtics guard boarded a cross-country flight from Chicago to his hometown of Tacoma, Wash. His family had made the arrangements; the hardest part a funeral is undoubtedly showing up.
The fact that Thomas had the mental and emotional fortitude to play through these circumstances is remarkable. Imagine carrying the weight of losing a loved one — maybe the most loved one: Your younger sister. Now imagine you’re a world-class athlete on the best team in the Eastern Conference, and the team’s success falls squarely on your shoulders.
Thomas already conceded his mind was elsewhere. He was and likely still is mentally and emotionally unavailable. How can you think about something as trivial as sports when your sister passed away? This isn’t a wrist injury, or a stinger. It’s not a torn ACL or a fractured elbow.
There’s no timetable on losing a loved one. There’s no shaking that off. But somehow, someway, IT4 has been magnificent for a Boston team that, quite frankly, needs him to be in order to compete.
Thomas is an All-Star.
He’s one of the league’s best scorers. But he’s also human. He’s a father, a son, a husband, and a brother. During this unfortunate stretch in his life, Thomas has somehow managed to balance it all.
At a time when many would have crumbled, Thomas has excelled. Boston’s rattled off five straight victories and has started its second-round series with a convincing win over a tough Wizards opponent.
Thomas has been behind it all, and he’s done it with a heavy heart. That’s impressive, no matter how the playoffs shake out for the Celtics.