BOSTON – Isaiah Thomas took the floor to a deafening cheer for the Boston Celtics’ playoff opener against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday night, just a day after his sister was killed in a car accident.
The Celtics held a pregame moment of silence for Chyna Thomas, who died early Saturday in a one-car interstate accident in their home state of Washington. She was 22. The Celtics’ All-Star guard was informed of her death following the team’s practice Saturday afternoon.
It was unclear if he’d play Sunday, and prior to the game TNT’s cameras captured teammate Avery Bradley comforting Thomas on the bench during the pregame shootaround. But Thomas led the team out of the tunnel when Boston took the floor for pregame warmups. He looked toward the rafters just before the tip-off.
On his shoes were written “Chyna” and “I love you.”
Condolences have poured in from around the league, from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and various players and friends. Thomas, in his sixth season, grew up in Tacoma, Washington, and starred at the University of Washington.
“He’s struggling,” Stevens said before the game. “Obviously, it’s tragic circumstances that he and his family are going through right now. Our thoughts, first and foremost are with them…We’ve talked a little bit last night and then again today (that) as he goes through it and if he feels like he needs to not (play) – then whatever he wants.”
In the locker room prior to the game, emotions among Thomas’ teammates were raw.
Center Al Horford, who touted the opportunity to play alongside Thomas as one of the main reasons he decided to sign with Boston as a free agent this past summer, said everyone is just trying to give him space right now. He expected Sunday’s game to be an emotional experience for his teammate.
“It has to be,” Horford said. “Isaiah is a very strong man and none of us have any idea what he’s going through or feeling. The fact that he’s even here is just a lot of credit to him. It’s a difficult time, but we’re here for him and we’re going to go out and compete and play hard.”
Forward Tyler Zeller said they just want to try to make his basketball world as easy as possible right now.
“He’s the reason we are where we are,” Zeller said. “He’s had an unbelievable season and he’s our No. 1…We’re gonna go out and help him out in any way.”
The Bulls were among the first NBA teams to release a statement of condolence for Thomas on Saturday. Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said he expected what is usually a high-energy Boston arena to be filled with even more emotion Sunday.
“It’s a horrible tragedy,” Hoiberg said. “He just seems like such a good kid, and obviously he’s one of the great competitors we have in our league. … It’s just awful what happened.”
Golden State’s Kevin Durant talked about Thomas after the Warriors’ Game 1 victory over Portland.
“We’re all praying for him, the NBA family’s behind him,” Durant said.
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