BOSTON – Hours before tip-off, Isaiah Thomas was on the parquet floor launching jumpers, working on his ball-handling, doing all the little things that he does before every Boston Celtics game.
But this is no ordinary game.
It’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Washington, Thomas’ first foray into the postseason beyond the first round.
But that’s not the only thing that makes this moment so surreal for Thomas.
This game comes 24 hours after his 22-year-old sister Chyna J. Thomas, was laid to rest in his hometown of Tacoma, Wash.
Thomas, along with president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and assistant coach Jerome Allen, made the trek to Tacoma, Wash. following Boston’s Game 6 win at Chicago to attend the funeral, and returned to Boston Saturday evening.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has had several conversations with Thomas since his sister died in a one-car accident on April 15, most of which had little to do with basketball and everything to do Thomas’ well-being off the court.
“I saw the clip of him speaking at the funeral,” said Stevens who added that he has talked to Thomas since he returned to Boston. "My discussion with him wasn’t about basketball, just how hard it is to speak at a funeral. So, he’s been through a lot. He’s been through a lot and he just continues to amaze us all when he steps on that court, with his resolve and his ability to be in what he calls his sanctuary.
Stevens added, “he’ll continue to have really tough days. I don’t think that’s going to stop.”
Neither will the support he has received and will continue to receive from his teammates.
“My mom passed away two years ago and he was there to support me,” said Avery Bradley, who grew up in the same Tacoma, Wash. neighborhood as Thomas. “And it happened during the season so it’s hard right now but all you can do is know that they’re in a better place and use it as motivation to go out there and live every day for them and play every game for them.”