The NBA Playoffs began this weekend and now real basketball is underway. One of the bigger surprises headed into the playoffs is that the Boston Celtics are the #1 seed, not the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics have their first number-one seed since the 2008 season, the year they walked away with the NBA Championship. Boston, however, entered Sunday’s game mourning rather than celebrating.
Star point guard Isaiah Thomas received heartbreaking news that his younger sister Chyna died in a car accident back in Washington on Saturday. Chyna was 22-years-old. Of course, we know that death can come at any time. Thomas, a superstar in Boston, is still human and came into Sunday’s game with a heavy heart.
I would be re-missed in not mentioning what Isaiah Thomas means to not only the Celtics, but the entire Boston community. Without Thomas, who put the team on his back countless times this season, they would certainly not have the #1 seed this postseason and the debate could be made Boston becomes a cellar dweller in the Eastern Conference without number four. Thomas averaged 28.9 points per game this year, as he stepped up from his 22.2 PPG average from one year before. This growth has propelled Boston to the top of the East.
Isaiah Thomas has become renown for his elevated performance in the 4th quarter this year. Crunch time has been renamed “I.T. Time” around Boston. Thomas is second in an average of points scored in crunch time (5.1) and is also second in the NBA in wins in crunch time (30); stats per NBA.com. Thomas has put on a cape in the 4th quarter, and without his heroics, Boston is not in the position they are right now. Basketball Reference estimates Thomas has contributed roughly 12.5 wins this year for the Celtics. Taking twelve wins away from this team, puts them at 41-41, the same record Miami had that kept them home for playoff time.
Isaiah Thomas teams with Avery Bradley in Boston, pairing up as the backcourt of the Celtics. The two talented guards played AAU basketball together back in Tacoma, Washington. Bradley had the task of breaking the news to Isaiah Thomas about his sister’s sudden departure. Bradley was carrying the weight of his teammate’s loss — one that extends well beyond the court. When Thomas was overcame with emotion in pregame, Bradley consoled him and helped remind us all this was bigger than basketball.
Isaiah Thomas went ahead and played the game against the 8th-seed Chicago Bulls, a talented 8th-seed with Jimmy Butler, 3-time champion Dwyane Wade, and ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo. Thomas struggled in tears to get through, but he did. Not only did he play the entire game, but he scored 33 points, dished out 6 assists, and grabbed 5 rebounds. Thomas played his heart out and time after time, play after play, put everything he had into every play.
I had hoped for the Celtics to win, and when the Bulls pulled away 106-102, it didn’t help the series of events from the weekend. While a basketball playoff win would not make things better, or help the Thomas family during this difficult time, it would have been a nice sight to see. When the final horn sounded and the Celtics dropped Game 1, it was not a pleasant feeling. As a human being, I yearned for Thomas and the Celtics to emerge victorious in this dark time.
I will be totally transparent here. I have been on the verge of giving up on the NBA, and I don’t know if I will ever, but I have gotten less and less interested in the league since it became too top-heavy with the Cavaliers and Warriors. I only watched a handful of NBA games this season and last night was the first time I watched the Boston Celtics in a full game this season. I had no interest in watching the NBA playoffs, but I did in support of Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics organization that has rallied around him.
Of course, root for your team these playoffs if they were fortunate of making it this far. But as a fan whose team is out of it, I will be watching intrigued with hopes the Boston Celtics can finally dethrone LeBron James in the East, defeat the Western Conference Champions, and be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy at the season’s end. Not for any other reason but to see Isaiah Thomas keep fighting.
Isaiah Thomas fought in that game when nobody knew how he would respond. Would he play? Who knew? I don’t know if I could focus on basketball in that instance. I have much respect for Isaiah Thomas for being the 5’9” underdog that plays with the biggest heart, but I gained even more after seeing him play with a heavy heart.
Go get it, I.T.