One week ago, the Boston Celtics were facing an uphill battle that no Eastern Conference team in NBA playoff history had ever successfully climbed.
The C’s had just dropped Games 1 and 2 of their first-round series with the Chicago Bulls at home and had to find a way to miraculously come together on the road in order to save their season.
If there were any team that could dig out of such a hole, it would be Boston’s group of hard-nosed underdogs, and sure enough, in the midst of crisis, the Celtics found a way.
Boston battled through an emotionally taxing two weeks after the sudden, tragic death of Isaiah Thomas’ 22-year-old sister, Chyna. Through their period of grieving, however, the Celtics grew stronger.
Fueled by their heavy hearts, the C’s hit the road and snagged two wins in Chicago to even up the series. With momentum back on their side, they returned home to Boston and grabbed Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead, before finishing off the Bulls Friday night in Chicago with a 105-83 Game 6 win.
“I was really proud of our guys for how they treated each other, how they stood together, stuck together, and how nobody pointed fingers,” Brad Stevens said Friday night, moments after winning his first NBA playoff series. “They were just a great support network for one another, and especially for Isaiah.”
The turning point of the series was Game 3. Boston had looked disconnected during the first two games at home and needed a change of scenery.
“After the second loss, I felt that our team started to separate a little bit,” admitted Jae Crowder. “I felt good about coming to Chicago because it just gave us a chance to just be together and continue to be a group like we’ve been all year. It just gave us a chance to come back and play as a group and as a whole.”
Thomas gathered his teammates before Game 3 and played them a voice message from Kevin Garnett. The Celtics Legend reminded them to play with Celtic pride and to play for Thomas’ family.
Garnett’s words resonated with the group and helped them to clear their minds. Boston hit the reset button and went on to win Game 3, 104-87.
“Sometimes you lose sight of the important things in life, and you appreciate life at the same time and you don’t take for granted any moment,” Horford reflected Friday night. “It was a rough couple of days for us. At the start of the playoffs, the team wasn’t right. After the second game, going into the third game, I think we were in a better place …That helped us get over the hump.”
Once the Celtics got over the hump, they began to look like the Celtics of old. Their on-court connection improved as the games went on, and by Friday, they were playing some of their best basketball of the season.
Boston’s offense rolled through Game 6 with ease, with all five starters reaching double-digits in scoring by the end of the third quarter. Its defense was even more impressive, as it held its opponent to a season-low-tying 83 points.
Best of all, Thomas was laughing and smiling throughout the entire game. On multiple occasions his screams of excitement were clearly audible through the television broadcast after one of his teammates would score. In the back of his mind, Thomas knew that they were all playing for him, playing for his family, playing for his late sister.
The Celtics collaborated to overcome the odds and win their first-round series despite dropping the first two games at home. They became just the fourth team in NBA history – and the first Eastern Conference team – to accomplish such a comeback in any best-of-seven series.
It proved to the Celtics that they can tackle any obstacle that is thrown in their path. Now, they’re ready for the next one as they prepare for their second-round series against the Washington Wizards.