By Brendan Smyth
22-year old Chyna Thomas, the sister of Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas, was killed early Friday morning on April 15th in a one car accident. The police report said she was not wearing a seatbelt. Taking place just one day before the start of the 1st Round of the Eastern Conference Finals, fans wondered if Thomas would play.
Thomas chose to play in Game 1 as an honor to his sister. As expected, it was an emotional day leading up to the tip-off. During warmups, Thomas was seen fighting back tears as he sat on the bench. Teammate Avery Bradley came over to Thomas and put his arms around him in comfort. When Thomas got up for the shoot around, the redness of his eyes was clearly visible from this emotional roller-coaster. The Celtics paid tribute to Chyna Thomas in their pregame ceremony, once again bringing tears to Thomas’ eyes.
Once the game started, Thomas put his focus on the next 48 minutes. He quickly drew a foul from Robin Lopez, hitting only one free throw, but made his next two of three after drawing another foul from Rajon Rondo. Isaiah really got it going when he sank his first three of the night, igniting the crowd and forcing the Bulls to call a timeout. Thomas would go on to score 13 of the Celtics’ 28 points on the first quarter, but only score another 2 in the second.
Avery Bradley also had a solid first quarter. He scored 8 points, including two 3-pointers. However, the Bulls would successfully tame Bradley in the second quarter. He scored 5 points, but only went 1-4 from behind the arch, and turned the ball over twice.
As for the Bulls, Robin Lopez helped his team gain a 2-point lead by halftime. Lopez scored 12 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in the first half. Dwayne Wade struggled in his 15 minutes of play, only making 2 of 7 shots, and foolishly missing a wide open dunk in the second quarter. Overall, the Bulls dominated the glass with 32 total rebounds, 16 of which were from the offensive side. This advantage allowed the team to score 30 of its 48 first half points in the paint. However, the Bulls did struggle beyond the arch, only making 2 of their 13 3-point attempts.
The third quarter was once again a close battle between the two teams. Fortunately, Isaiah Thomas once again came back to life. With about four and a half minutes left in the third, Thomas came down the court and sank a 13-foot floater after being fouled by Rondo. Thomas converted on the free throw. After a made basket by Bobby Portis, Thomas went down the court and made a 17-foot shot after being fouled once again, and made the following free throw. While Bulls’ Jimmy Butler struggled throughout the quarter, he scored 5 points in the final 33 seconds, including a deep 3-pointer with 4 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 74 points.
With under 6 minutes left in the fourth, Avery Bradley won a jump-ball tip against Jimmy Butler, leading to an Al Horford dunk. The Celtics trailed by only 2 points. A few possessions later, Rondo brought Thomas to the floor after a 3-point attempt, bringing Isaiah to the line. He hit all 3 free throws, giving Boston a 1-point lead. However, this was the last lead Boston would have. After a Bulls made basket, Thomas had a costly turnover, leading to a 3-point make by Jerian Grant to give Chicago a 4 point lead. On their next possession, Butler was fouled on a 3-point attempt, and sunk all 3 free throws. This 7-point lead was the biggest by any team during the game up until this point, and the C’s would never comeback.
Chicago controlled a 9-point lead after a Jimmy Butler layup with 47 seconds left, but the C’s were not done yet. Jae Crowder made a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 6, and had the chance to do it again after a Butler turnover, but missed back to back 3-pointers. Butler once again gave the Bulls a 7-point lead after making one free throw from a Celtic’s intentional foul. However, Isaiah sank a 26-foot 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to cut the lead to 4. A costly turnover by Jerian Grant would lead to another basket by Thomas. Unfortunately, the Bulls made 3 consecutive free throws, sealing the victory for Chicago
Final score- Bulls: 106, Celtics: 102
For Chicago, Butler led the team with 30 points, shooting 47% and making three 3-pointers. Bobby Portis made a strong impact off the bench with 19 points, shooting 80%, and snagging 9 rebounds. As for the Celtics, Thomas led the team with 33 points while shooting 55% from the field. He also had 6 assists. Al Horford also put up solid numbers, scoring 19 points, with 8 assists and 7 rebounds.
This Bulls team is easily beatable, but the Celtics must make an obvious adjustment for the rest of the series. The first is an improvement in rebounding. The C’s were out-rebounded 53 to 36, including 20 offensive rebounds for the Bulls. It is unacceptable for Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk to have a combined 8 rebounds while playing a combined 41 minutes. If the team can be more physical under the rim, cut down on the lazy turnovers, and improve their 3-point shooting, they should dominate the rest of the series.
The whole NBA world is with Isaiah Thomas and his family. Only few people have experienced what he has in the last few days. It took a lot of strength and courage to play on Sunday. I have nothing but respect for him, and send my condolences to him and his family.