Just one day after Isaiah Thomas' sister lost her life in a tragic car accident, Boston's star point guard was expected to carry the Celtics to victory in their playoff opener against the Chicago Bulls. Thomas fought valiantly and led all scorers with 33 on the evening, but it was not enough to overcome a second-half barrage from Jimmy Butler, as the Bulls won 106-102.
Thomas came out of the gate on fire, and for a while it looked like he was going to lead the Celtics to victory. He led all scorers with 15 points in the first half, six of those coming on a pair of early threes that sent the home crowd into a frenzy:
Thomas is typically known for his fourth-quarter heroics—Celtics fans have even taken to calling him King of the Fourth—and he continued to will his way into the paint as both teams tired down the stretch. Anyone with a heart would have understood Thomas running out of gas in this game, as he tried to channel his emotions in the pressure cooker that is playoff basketball.
But the story of the game wasn't the final score, or even Thomas' excellent individual performance. It was a teary scene at the TD Garden before the game got underway, and Thomas was understandably overcome with emotions as he tried to cope with the loss of his sister, Chyna, while still preparing for the opening tip:
Not to be denied the opportunity to honor his sister, Thomas tried to keep things as normal as possible during his pre-game routine. He led the Celtics out of the tunnel prior to the game, and eventually took the floor in a pair of kicks emblazoned with a tribute to Chyna:
It felt like the entire world was behind Thomas when the game tipped off. The Boston faithful drowned out the public address announcer when his name was called during warm-ups, and players past and present cheered Thomas on:
Not everyone was so eloquent or understanding in their handling of the situation. Charles Barkley stammered through discussion of Thomas' emotions during the pre-game show, saying it didn't seem like he should be playing and even referring to Thomas' display of emotions as, "not a good look":
The overwhelming response to Thomas was positive, however, and for just one day the Celtics had a lot of the basketball world rooting for them. Despite the loss, Thomas' story and willingness to keep fighting during tough times is something people from all backgrounds can identify with.
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