BOSTON – These days have been difficult, emotionally draining times for Isaiah Thomas.
His sister Chyna Thomas was killed in a one-car accident on April 15, and her funeral was held two weeks later.
And on Monday, it was her birthday.
She would have been 23.
In between, Thomas has had to battle the pain that such emotions surely bring on, with the reality that he has been charged with leading the Boston Celtics into the playoff promise land that a number one seed like the Celtics are expected to venture into.
Despite all the challenges and hurdles that have come his way, Thomas hasn’t just soldiered through these teams.
He has grown bigger, stronger, more unstoppable.
The 5-foot-9 Thomas was all that and then some on Tuesday, delivering a game for the ages in leading the Celtics to a 129-119 overtime win Game 2 of their best-of-seven series with the Washington Wizards.
He scored a playoff career-high 53 points, the second-highest scoring game in Celtics playoff history, trailing the great John Havlicek who scored 54 points on April 1, 1973.
Thomas wasn’t searching for another spot among the all-time great Celtics on Tuesday.
His focus was honoring his sister and in the process, finding a way, anyway, to lead Boston to a victory which now has them ahead 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
“I was just so locked in that fourth quarter and overtime because I wanted to win the game so bad that I really didn’t know what I had (point-wise),” said Thomas who scored 29 points in the fourth quarter and the overtime session. “I just knew that I had to keep being aggressive.”
He was that indeed, although he had some company most of the night in Washington’s John Wall.
Wall finished with a double-double of 40 points and 13 assists, although the Celtics kept him scoreless in the overtime session.
Even though their point totals were on the high side, this was not Larry Bird-Dominique Wilkins from the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals when they seemingly went shot-for-shot before the Celtics emerged with the win as Bird and Wilkins scored 34 and 47 points, respectively.
But make no mistake about what happened Tuesday night.
Thomas’ play will be an instant classic, and will be remembered years from now as one of the greatest individual performances by a Celtics player ever in a postseason game.
Not only because of the volume of points he scored, or its significance in terms of keeping the Celtics in control of this series.
But because of all the off-the-court challenges he has faced in recent weeks, including the replacement of a tooth that was knocked out in Game 1.
Thomas spent six hours in the dentist’s chair on Monday, and another four or five hours prior to tonight’s game.
“(Earlier) today my mouth was so swollen I had to go back to the hospital to get a few meds to get the swelling down because I could barely talk,” Thomas said. “I knew once game time came, my guys would get me going and get me the energy to try and win the game.”
Following the game, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens once again found himself – like most of us – stunned and amazed at how Thomas continues to find ways to elevate his game despite their being so many reasons, legitimate ones, for his game to fall off.
“What else is there to say?” Stevens said. “You know, there’s a point today when he was not feeling good at all, and was having a tough day, and I thought he was going to really have to gut this one out. And he not only guts it out, he ends up with (53). Pretty impressive.”
Said Marcus Smart: “He (Thomas) was in a zone. He wasn't going to let anything or anyone stop him. He was unstoppable tonight."
Terry Rozier added, “It’s just time after time after time. He just gets it done. He’s great to watch. He’s a great teammate. I’m happy for him.”
But this monumental achievement was indeed a bittersweet time for Thomas, knowing it was in part motivated by the death of his sister.
And while Thomas was certainly motivated to win because it is the playoffs, doing so in honor of his sister seemed to make him even more locked in than usual.
“I know it was for her,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley who grew up in the same Tacoma, Washington neighborhood as Thomas. “It was special; it was special.”
Said Thomas: “It’s nice for your name to be in Celtics history because of all the great players. But until you win one of those championships you can’t call yourself a great player until you do that. That is the ultimate goal.”