BOSTON • Jae Crowder and Al Horford did plenty to help the Boston Celtics get the jump on the Washington Wizards in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Eastern Conference semi-final on Sunday. So did Avery Bradley.
But, when the series opener was over, most of the talk was about Isaiah Thomas, the physical and emotional leader of his team.
"Just been in continual amazement the last couple of weeks with his ability to function on the basketball court and excel on the basketball court," Boston coach Brad Stevens said after Thomas returned in the wee hours of Sunday morning from his sister's funeral to deliver 33 points and nine assists in the Celtics' 123-111 victory over Washington. "Today's just another chapter of that."
Thomas flew from Chicago to Tacoma, Washington, to attend the funeral of his sister, Chyna, on Saturday, before flying back late on Saturday night and getting in at 4am.
He scored 12 of his 33 points and Crowder 11 of his play-off career-high 24 (six of eight from three-point range) in a 36-16 third quarter to blow it open.
Thomas, who gave an emotional speech at the funeral, lost a tooth to an inadvertent elbow from Otto Porter in the first half - the tooth flying up before Thomas wound up picking it up off the floor.
Three-pointers Isaiah Thomas made in the first quarter after losing his tooth, the same number (three for 26) he made in the play-offs before that.
Then, he helped pick up the Celtics after they conceded the first 16 points of the game before rallying to maintain home-court advantage heading into today's Game 2.
He said after the game: "I've never had dental problems so this is new. I've always had team-mates that I've always clowned them about their tooth being out. Now I'm one of them."
He was three of 26 from three-point range in the play-offs but hit three treys in the first quarter and went on to make five of 11.
Thomas said: "We know it's not going to be, I guess, peaches and cream all the time. We've always played with our backs against the wall. Tonight we definitely didn't want to be down 16-0, but it happens. We locked in even more."
Thomas said he slept for some time on the plane and after he got home - and then it was time for basketball. Stevens told him that he did not have to play, but that was never in question.
"It's tough, but it's the play-offs," Thomas said. "There's no excuses. I decided to play and I just tried to give it all I got for my team, and we came out with the win."
Interviewed on ABC after the game, he said: "Basketball, when I'm on the court, it just keeps me going. I do everything for my sister now and that's all I can do."
The other side noticed.
"I think the biggest thing you can say, he's the biggest winner," Washington coach Scott Brooks said. "He's one of the biggest winners in this league. He plays with everything he has.
"I can't imagine being able to do it myself if I were in the same situation."
The top-seeded Celtics, winning their fifth straight play-off game after losing the first two games of the first round, both at home to the Chicago Bulls, trailed 5-22 just 51/2 minutes into the game.
But they caught up in the second quarter, stayed close and then exploded in a 36-point third quarter to lead by 15 before holding off a Washington charge.
The win marked their 56th straight in the play-offs when entering the fourth quarter - dating back to 1973.
Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 27 points.