Tomase: Breaking down the latest controversy to hit Patriots quarterback Tom Brady
by: John Tomase on Mon, 04/17/2017 - 12:54am
Isaiah Thomas endured an unspeakable tragedy on Saturday. His sister, Chyna, died in a car crash. She was only 22.
Isaiah Thomas summoned the will to do his job on Sunday night. He did it really well. The Celtics still lost to the Bulls in Game 1 of their first round playoff series. "He's an amazing, amazing player," saluted head coach Brad Stevens. "Amazing person."
Saying that Thomas's family situation puts the triviality of pro sports in perspective is demeaning in its obviousness. He could be an emergency room trauma surgeon or the president of a bank or a blacksmith and the sentiment would remain the same: in matters of grief and loss, family comes first.
So whatever Thomas decides to do over the next few days is totally up to him. If he misses Game 2 to fly home to Washington, not even Mike Felger will blame him. The Celtics will simply have to make do and play a lot better than they did in Game 1, a task much taller than Thomas himself.
As heartbreaking as it is to imagine Thomas playing through the pain of his sister's loss, it is also, sadly, the way of the world. Those relentless currents move in only one direction. So as we acknowledge the relative insignificance of Thomas's job when juxtaposed against his life, let's take a hard look at what we now know about this series following Sunday's 106-102 loss.
The Celtics are in trouble.
There will be an understandable temptation to attribute their performance to sorrow. It takes only one glance at the image of Avery Bradley consoling his sobbing teammate during shootaround to convey the emotional impact of Thomas's loss. If that didn't move you, then maybe the avalanche of an ovation Thomas received during pregame introductions in a darkened TD Garden will do it. The silent tears streamed stoically then, too.
But the Celtics are playing a dangerous game if they let themselves believe that outside forces played an outsized role in this defeat, because what Chicago did to them on Sunday could very easily be repeated for the rest of the series.
Contrary to past playoff losses against the Cavaliers and Hawks, when waves of physical defenders left Thomas without the space to operate, on this night, he got his.
He scored 33 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Though there were stretches -- particularly with 6-foot-7 All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler shadowing him -- when Thomas went silent, the diminutive scoring machine still found ways to serpentine his way to the hoop. He made 10 of 12 free throws, grabbed five rebounds, dished out six assists, and compiled a plus-12. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter with the Celtics trying desperately to stay in the game.
He wasn't the problem. Everybody else was, and the Celtics can't win without much stronger efforts from the supporting cast.
Outside of big man Al Horford (19 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists), who asserted himself in a manner befitting his contract, Thomas had virtually zero help. Avery Bradley scored 14 points and made 4-of-10 3-pointers, but scored only three points in the second half.
Even while making 3-of-7 3-pointers, guard Marcus Smart was exposed. He went 1-for-4 from distance and committed a turnover in the fourth quarter, with the Bulls content to concede his open 3's. He'd either beat them or he wouldn't. Not surprisingly, the 28 percent marksman wasn't up to the task.
Jae Crowder landed in foul trouble and only scored nine points. Amir Johnson, rooted to the floor like Baby Groot, tallied five points and four rebounds, earning a tongue-lashing on the bench from teammate Gerald Green. Shell-shocked big man Kelly Olynyk scored seven points on 3-for-8 shooting. Rookie Jaylen Brown took a minus-9 in only 11 minutes, overwhelmed by Chicago star Jimmy Butler.
The supporting cast looked wretched, pulling the chain on jumper after jumper. It wouldn't be so concerning if it were an aberration, but we've been watching this little dance number for the last month. The Celtics barely boast any secondary options with Thomas in the game. When he's catching a breather, they may as well play for a scoreless tie. At one point in the first half, Thomas owned more points with his off-hand (4) than the entire bench with both hands combined (3). That's untenable.
And we haven't even gotten to the worst part. The Bulls dominated the boards like the Celtics weren't even there. Chicago won the battle of the glass 53-36, which wasn't supposed to happen following the trade of active forward Taj Gibson. The teams met once without him and the Celtics outrebounded the Bulls 51-40.
But in the first half alone on Sunday, Chicago pulled down 32 rebounds, including 16 offensive. Center Robin Lopez ran a series of Mikan drills, grabbing 11 rebounds, eight off Bulls misses. "I know when I put that kind of pressure on the rim, it opens things up for my teammates," he said. At times, Chicago's dominance of possession felt like Argentina keeping the ball away from the United States during a World Cup friendly. The C's are lucky that Butler isn't Lionel Messi, or they'd have lost by 20.
That said, the Bulls forward is still pretty damn good, and once he found the range, the Celtics had no answer. He scored 15 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, including the clinching free throws in the final three seconds.
By that point, the Bulls had established the ability to create open shots and then grab long rebounds if they missed. The Celtics, meanwhile, struggled to find good shots in the allotted 24 seconds, and half the ones they did take seemingly belonged to Smart, who might want to consider bowling at the hoop, skee-ball style.
The next couple of days will undoubtedly be dominated by talk of Thomas's family, and that's appropriate. The last thing most of us would want to do when wracked with such anguish is go to work.
Thomas isn't the problem, however. It's everybody else. And if they don't figure out how to make a shot or grab a rebound in support of their grieving teammate, their season will end a lot sooner than anyone expected.