The shortest player in the NBA has suddenly become the most unstoppable player. 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics has faced adversity his entire career, but none like he has faced since the beginning of the NBA playoffs.
On May 2, Thomas led the Celtics to a 129-119 come from behind victory in overtime in game two of the Eastern Conference semifinals against John Wall and the Washington Wizards. Thomas scored 53 points, including 29 points in the fourth quarter. After the game, a TNT sideline reporter asked Thomas where his inspiration for the performance came from.
“It’s my sister. It’s her birthday today. Happy birthday. She would’ve been 23 today. Everything I do is for her, and she’s watching over me, so that’s all her,” Thomas said after the game.
Chyna Thomas died on April 15, just one day before the Celtics first playoff game against the Chicago Bulls. Isaiah, visibly shaken to the point of tears before the game, played and scored 33 points in a losing effort.
The Celtics fell behind 2-0 to the Bulls, before rattling off four straight victories to set up their date with the Wizards in round two. Thomas, who averaged 29 points per game in the regular season, has continued his torrid pace in the playoffs despite all that is weighing on him.
In game one against the Wizards, Thomas took an inadvertent elbow from Washington forward Otto Porter Jr., which knocked out a tooth and required extensive oral surgery to repair the damage. He admitted after game two that he didn’t think he would be able to go.
“I just didn’t have the energy. But once I got around the guys, got to the arena, I felt like I could go. And I told [coach Brad Stevens] I could. There was no way I couldn’t play on [Chyna’s] birthday. I wanted to win for her. I wanted to play well for her,” Thomas said.
Thomas has been long overlooked. He only received three stars coming out of high school before signing with his home state school, the University of Washington. Thomas was drafted with the 60th and final pick of the 2011 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings, where he played until 2014.
Despite averaging 20 points and six assists a game for the Kings, he was traded to the Phoenix Suns, before then being traded to the Celtics in 2015, where he finished second in voting for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, before becoming a starter in the 2015-16 season.
Despite his small stature, Thomas has become one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA, and teams simply cannot find a way to stop him. Thomas is two wins away from leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals, where LeBron James and the Cavaliers will likely stand in his way. The Celtics went 1-3 against the Cavs this season, but outpaced the reigning champs in the battle for the number one seed in the East.
Isaiah Thomas has been overlooked his entire life. But he has dedicated these playoffs to Chyna and her memory, and it would be unwise for anyone to overlook him any longer.