BOSTON (CBS) — Isaiah Thomas took the floor for the Boston Celtics on Sunday night, met with a standing ovation from the crowd.
While this is nothing new for the guard, the circumstances surrounding his status for the game were. Thomas learned after Saturday’s practice that his 22-year-old sister was killed in a car crash in Tacoma, Washington. It was unclear if he would play a few hours prior to the game, but Thomas took the floor with a heavy heart and still led the way for Boston in their Game 1 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
On this night, the ovation following his pregame introduction was the fans’ way of telling IT that he and his family were in their thoughts and prayers. He wasn’t his usual fired-up self before the game, fighting back tears as he sat on the bench. He was emotional again when the team held a moment of silence prior to tip off.
But Thomas still went out and scored a game-high 33 points for Boston on 10-for-18 shooting. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Celtics tried to claw back and steal the win, and was treated to more ovations from the crowd with every made bucket. He didn’t have to play at all, but he still played the way Celtics fans have grown to love over the last two seasons.
Thomas wrote “Chyna” and “RIP LIL SIS” on his sneakers for the game to honor his late sister.
Thomas chose not to speak to the media after the loss, and his teammates described an evening that was emotional for everyone. They praised Thomas’ strength for taking the floor, and doing what he usually does under such extreme circumstances.
“I think it just speaks to who he is as a person and how he comes out here and just fights each and every night, even when adversity is against him,” said Boston forward Jae Crowder. “We just should have gotten that win for him.”
“We’re never going to make excuses, but this was hard,” said forward Al Horford. “This was difficult, and I felt like our guys really dealt with it the right way. Isaiah’s the one I feel like was the best. We knew he was hurting, and it’s not easy, and we have a lot of respect for him. We have a lot of respect for what he’s able to do to come out here and show — it’s not an easy task.”
“I know it’s tough for him. It says a lot about him. It says he’s a true competitor. I know tonight he was playing for his sister. He was playing for his family,” said guard Avery Bradley, who also grew up in Washington. “We appreciate that as teammates, and he’s just an amazing basketball player and even a better person. I’m happy with the way he played tonight, and we just need to continue to fight for him.”
Thomas’ status for Tuesday night’s Game 2 in Boston remains unclear, but head coach Brad Stevens said the team will be with Thomas whether he is on the floor with them or not.
“Whatever he needs to do, he needs to do, and we’ll help in any way. If he needs to and wants to stay here, then we’ll be here surrounding him. And if he wants to go to Seattle, then he should go to Seattle,” Stevens said after the loss. “It’s his call, and should be.”