BOSTON – The last thing anyone in and around Boston wanted to do Sunday night was play Playoff basketball. For a city like Boston, who relishes and ignites for postseason play, this is absolutely unheard of.
Just 36 hours before the top seeded and 53-win Boston Celtics were to open up postseason play against the Chicago Bulls, tragedy struck the city and the Celtics franchise as a whole. The heart and soul of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, had lost his beloved younger sister in a fatal car crash thousands of miles away from Boston in Isaiah’s hometown of Tacoma, Washington.
In a calendar year which featured the surge of a diminutive point guard onto the national stage of the NBA, Isaiah Thomas had been riding a wave of success both with the improving Celtics team and within his own life. From getting married last summer, to becoming a two-time All-Star, and bringing basketball back to the forefront of a competitive Boston sports scene, Thomas has had the greatest year of his young life.
“Me and Isaiah have known each other since we were kids” said teammate and longest tenured Boston Celtic, Avery Bradley. “I’m going to be there for him no matter what. I’m just happy to be a part of his life. He is a special person, special player, and I know that as this playoff series continues, Isaiah’s going to continue to play well. And he’s going to play for his sister” said Bradley. As Thomas miraculously and bravely took the court on Sunday night, nothing would be the same.
After an emotional moment of silence for Chyna and introduction of Isaiah, a 48 minute game of professional basketball had to be played.
The first round opponents of the Celtics would be the (41-41) and eight-seeded Chicago Bulls, who took two games from Boston on the season series.
The Celtics looked early to their leader who provided a spark of adrenaline into the game and the crowd. Thomas, dealing with grief and unmeasurable emotions, went to work on the Bulls and ended the night with an astonishing line of 33 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists, all while leading the Celtics in +/- with +12. “It takes a lot of balls for somebody to go through that and still come out and play at a high level,” Bradley added.
However, the story of the night was the Bulls ability to wreck Boston on the glass and on the bench. The number one second-chance points team, lived up to the hype and more on Sunday night. Chicago was able to outrebound Boston (65-44) and snag 20 offensive rebounds on the night. “That was the game. That’s the game. That’s the series. If we don’t rebound, we don’t win the series. It’s simple” said Jae Crowder following Game 1. The Bulls bigs, Robin Lopez and Bobby Portis, were a force against the smaller Celtics who could not find an answer, and gave up 33 points and 20 rebounds to the duo.
Despite the Boston bench going two players deeper than Chicago, the Bulls scored 35 points from their four reserves, while Boston could only muster 22 points from their six role players.
Game one of the series never had an obvious blowout looming, and was neck and neck down the stretch and throughout the entirety of the game.
In the end, Boston could not take the lead they had captured in the final minutes of the third quarter and into the end of regulation. The Bulls were able to pull away down the stretch and hold onto a four point lead to take back home-court advantage from the top-seeded Celtics in the series.
The King of the Fourth could not close on the Chicago lead, but who really cares? “He was incredible. He is an amazing player and an amazing person” said Brad Stevens following Game 1.
Isaiah Thomas plans to play in Game 2 in Boston, fly to Tacoma immediately afterwards, and rejoin the Celtics before Game 3 in Chicago.
Game 1: 106-102 Bulls