In less than a week, Isaiah Thomas has endured more in life than most people have in years. He’s delivered a series closeout against the Chicago Bulls, a eulogy at his sister’s funeral, and underwent six hours of oral surgery while scoring 86 points in two playoff wins over the Washington Wizards, the latter of which came on what would have been his sister’s birthday.
There is no precise hyperbole to describe what the 5-foot-9 Thomas is doing – how someone who is experiencing so much grief, so much emotional adversity, is willing a team against all odds.
Throughout this year’s playoffs and most notably in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday night against Washington, Thomas is exemplifying why he is in fact indestructible. In Boston’s 129-119 victory, 29 of Thomas’ 53 total points came in the fourth quarter and overtime on 11-of-16 shooting. As Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal ran out of steam, Thomas seemed to grow stronger. With the Celtics maintaining a late overtime lead, and Thomas still getting buckets, the crowd inside TD Banknorth got even louder, almost becoming unhinged with euphoria.
In the process, Thomas became the sixth Celtic in the past 30 years to register at least 30 points and five assists in back-to-back playoff games per BBall Reference, joining Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, John Bagley, Dennis Johnson, and Larry Bird.
Thomas is supposed to be too small to be a superstar, but he is a superstar. “Supposed to be” means nothing to these Celtics, and no one embodies that more than Thomas. Small players should not be this good in the playoffs – especially flat-out dominant, which is what Thomas is doing every night. It just does not matter with him. Against bigger defenders, he dashes past them effortlessly, nailing shots that careen off the glass or goes nearly parallel to the ground with his fade away. He hunts for the big shots, he loses players on switches, he creates looks where there are none, and in the end, he makes the shots. Thomas’ efficiency during these playoffs is 72-of-156 (47%), this shouldn’t be possible with the kind of attention he draws, but he’s making it happen.
With everything stacked against him, Thomas is establishing himself as one of the best playoff performers in the game, and the Celtics are now two wins away from the Eastern Conference Finals because of it.
When Thomas made the flight from Boston to his hometown in Tacoma, WA to speak at his sister’s funeral following last Sunday’s Game 1 victory, Thomas delivered a riveting speech about the life of his sister, Chyna, and how she’s still pushing him in spirit.
“When I found out the news, I wanted to give up and quit,” Thomas said. “And never in my life have I ever thought about quitting.”
“I realized quitting isn’t an option,” Thomas continued. “That’s the easy way out. I will keep going for my sister, as I know she wouldn’t want me to stop. I love you Chyna and I miss you so much. And everything I do for the rest of my life will be for you. I love you girl.”
Exactly a day later, Thomas spoke about what his Game Two’s performance, scoring 53 points on his sister’s birthday, meant to him. Here is the quote from ESPN’s Chris Forsberg.
“It’s my sister. It’s her birthday today. Happy birthday. She would have been 23 today. Everything I do is for her. And she’s watching over me, so that’s all her. ”
“My family, my friends, they just tell me to keep going. My sister wouldn’t want me to stop. The only thing about it, once I leave this gym, I hit reality and she’s not here. So, that’s the tough part. But when I’m in this arena, I can lock in and know everything I do is for her.”
There’s no timetable on losing a loved one. There’s no shaking that off. But somehow, someway, Thomas 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 six straight victories and has started its second-round series with two powerful wins 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 in the near future. For his sister, his teammates, and the Celtics’ organization, Thomas is proving to be an inspiration for everyone.