In the final seconds, it was Thomas trying to bring the Celtics back, making a layup off a drive with 7.5 seconds to play, cutting the deficit to two points. But Thomas was not fist-pumping, not imploring a late rally despite the glimmer of hope. Instead, his upper lip stiffened. He walked, stoic and silent, toward the bench.
Who could blame him? On the floor, the Celtics were looking at a difficult loss, and Butler soon made two game-sealing free throws. As time wound down, Thomas knew he was just seconds away from being plunged back into reality. This game would be over, and Thomas again would be surrounded by a much more significant loss off the floor.
But the Celtics were lacking rhythm and offensive cohesion for most of their postseason opener against the Bulls, and Chicago had the defense and rebounding to stifle Thomas and the top-seeded Celtics. The Bulls won 106-102.
For Thomas, the day was bigger than basketball, bigger than the postseason. Early Saturday, his 22-year-old sister, Chyna Thomas, died in a car accident on Interstate 5 in Washington state. But still, Thomas suited up for the Celtics on Sunday and, individually, he did not disappoint. More telling, the Celtics floundered without him on the floor — Thomas was plus-12 for the game.
They’ll need to summon that defensive mindset against the Wizards, who stormed the Hawks in the fast break in their series. Washington averaged 25.2 points per game out of transition, most of any team in the playoffs, and their efficiency — 1.15 points per possession — was well above their season average. The Wizards were a good running team in the regular season (20.3 points per game in transition, fourth in the NBA), but they’ve been exceptional in the playoffs.