The NBA world rallied behind Boston Celtics star point guard Isaiah Thomas after his 22-year-old sister, Chyna, died in a car crash on Saturday.
Thomas decided to play in Game 1 against the Chicago Bulls, though it was obvious he was an emotional wreck.
Prior to the game, Thomas sat with Celtics guard Avery Bradley, who grew up near Thomas and is a close friend, and cried along the sideline.
Then, during warmups, Thomas was teary as the Celtics gave his sister a moment of silence, and as fans gave him a huge ovation during introductions.
But perhaps the most chilling moment came early in the first quarter. Thomas led a fastbreak down the court and threw a fancy between-the-legs pass to Bradley. Bradley then tossed it back to Thomas, who launched a deep three and canned it. Afterward, the Celtics crowd went crazy.
Thomas finished the game with 33 points, but the Celtics fell to the Bulls. The Celtics outscored the Bulls by 16 with Thomas on the floor but were badly outscored when he sat.
After the game, Celtics players came to the support of Thomas, singing his praises.
“I think it just speaks to who he is as a person and how he comes out here and just fights each and every night, even when adversity is against him,” Celtics forward Jae Crowder said (via ESPN’s Chris Forsberg). “We just should have gotten that win for him.”
Bradley said, “I know it’s tough for him. It says a lot about him. It says he’s a true competitor. I know tonight he was playing for his sister. He was playing for his family. We appreciate that as teammates, and he’s just an amazing basketball player and even a better person. I’m happy with the way he played tonight, and we just need to continue to fight for him.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has reportedly told Thomas it’s up to him if he wants to continue playing in the series. As many former athletes have suggested, the distraction of basketball could help Thomas cope, and his performance suggested he was able to get lost in Game 1. It’s abundantly clear that the Celtics will need him if they want to beat the Bulls.