By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Isaiah Thomas landed in Boston at 4 a.m. on Sunday, just nine hours before the Boston Celtics were set to host the Washington Wizards for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at the TD Garden.
Thomas spent his day Saturday with friends and family as his younger sister Chyna was laid to rest in Tacoma, Washington. Despite his heavy grief, Boston’s leading scorer returned in time to be with his teammates and face off with one of the best point guards in the league in John Wall.
“I was trying to get as much sleep as I can on the flight and then when I got home this morning,” Thomas said. “I mean it’s tough, but it’s the playoffs. There’s no excuses. I decided to play and I just tried to give it all I got for my team.”
Thomas rose up to the challenge in Game 1, overcoming fatigue and a missing front tooth to score a game-high 33 points in Boston’s 123-111 win over the Washington Wizards. The outing was arguably the guard’s best offensive output of the postseason, as he shot the ball efficiently (11-of-23 FG) and set up teammates for countless easy opportunities (9 assists).
The outing added another chapter to a historic offensive season for the point guard that is leaving his head coach running out of ways to praise his play.
“I’ve said it before: I’ve just been in continual amazement the last couple of weeks with his ability to function on the basketball court and excel on the basketball court,” Brad Stevens declared. “And today’s like just another chapter of that. Just amazed.”
Al Horford (21 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds) couldn’t help but rave at how the guard continues to raise his game in such challenging circumstances.
“It was unreal,” Horford explained “Everything that was going on for him off the court and for him to still be able to function at this level, just strong character, his will is very impressive. I don’t know if I would have been able to handle it in that way. He’s able to come in here and say no excuses but he has a perfectly good excuse. He still comes out, he’s focused and it was like he flew with us from Chicago yesterday. He didn’t linger at all. It’s a credit to him and his way to get prepared for the game.”
Adversity was apparent in many forms for the Celtics and Thomas in the opening moments of Game 1. Not only did the Wizards jump out to a 16-0 lead, Thomas had his tooth knocked out by Otto Porter Jr. during a steal attempt midway through the first quarter.
“I was going for a steal and I think it was Porter, his elbow just hit me, and it came out,” said Thomas. “I’ve taken a thousand hits like that and my tooth never came out.”
He later added: “It just bothers me to talk. My tongue goes right through my tooth. I’ve never had dental problems so this is new. I’ve always had teammates that I’ve always clowned them about the tooth being out and now I’m one of them. So hopefully we can replace it as soon as possible.”
The toothless Thomas attempted to have the tooth reattached by the C”s medical staff (it fell out again during the game), but the only way it impacted the 28-year-old guard on the court was with his speech. Thomas scored 30 of his 33 points after getting hit, but that didn’t prevent his teammates from getting some friendly ribbing in on his new look.
“He looks a little tougher,” Avery Bradley said with a smile. “I like it. I was making jokes during the game on the bench and I got him laughing – it was funny. There’s a guy from Seattle named Rodney Stuckey and he plays with a missing tooth, and I told Isaiah he should go with that look for the rest of the playoffs. He laughed and said no, I’m getting it fixed tonight.”
All in all, the performance just added another name to the list of Thomas admirers as the Celtics rallied from a 17-point deficit to win their fifth straight postseason game. As the two-time All-Star continues to post terrific numbers against the league’s elite, Thomas is only strengthening his case to be a part of Boston’s potential championship core down the road.
“I think the biggest thing you can say is that he’s the biggest winner,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “One of the biggest winners in this league. He plays with everything he has, that’s what you want your players to do. Incredible talent… one of the best players in basketball.”
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.