Author’s note 4:30 pm: This article has been updated after Celtics practice on Saturday.
WALTHAM — The whirlwind continues for Isaiah Thomas, as he plans to fulfill his remarkably full and difficult schedule this weekend. After the Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls in Game 6 Friday night, Thomas began preparations to fly out to his hometown of Tacoma, Washington to attend his sister Chyna’s funeral Saturday.
Considering the return trip would account for about eight hours when factoring in the time zone change, Thomas making it back in time for the 1pm ET tip in Game 1 of the second round series against the Washington Wizards is a difficult task.
But according to Jae Crowder, Thomas told his teammates he will pull it off.
"He's gonna have a busy 24 hours," Crowder told reporters in Chicago after the game Friday. "He's shown he can overcome a lot. We're his family, he's going to be with his family, so I think he'll be able to bounce back. But we know he's going through a lot, and he wants us to prepare, and that's what we're gonna do. We're gonna prepare, and when he gets back he said he'll be ready to go."
Thomas has pushed his schedule to the limit dealing with this tragedy, flying back home between games 2 and 3 when they had an extra day off. Sleep is often rare to come by when grieving from the loss of a loved one, so there is little doubt Thomas has taken an extreme emotional and physical toll.
Brad Stevens confirmed at practice Saturday that the plan for Thomas is to head back to Boston Saturday night with Danny Ainge and assistant coach Jerome Allen.
“His plan is to come back today,” Stevens said Saturday. “But like I said last night, if it becomes too much and he needs to stay, whatever he needs.”
Stevens and the rest of the team wanted to go to the funeral, but the unusually tight turnaround before Game 1 got in the way of those plans.
“Yeah, yeah, obviously that was -- if we would have played Tuesday I was gone, I was going. With this turnaround, Danny went, Jerome Allen went out there. We all send our best. It’s hard to think about how he feels right now.”
Thomas did not ask his teammates to join him considering they have just one day to prepare for Washington, but they were all rooting for the Atlanta Hawks to win Game 6 and force a Game 7 on Sunday.
"He didn't ask us to come, but we wanted to be there," said Crowder Friday night. "We were hoping Atlanta would get that win to give us a few days, but he did come back and say, 'Y'all just prepare. I'm gonna do my part and prepare. And once I get back, I'll be ready to go.'"
Bradley reiterated at practice Saturday that he’s confident Thomas will be ready to roll.
“I know it’s going to be hard on him, but we’re going to make sure that we’re here for him and we’re prepared. And I know he’s going to be prepared for the game.”
Avery Bradley, a close friend of Thomas’ and fellow Tacoma native that is just two years younger, planned to attend the funeral. But the schedule circumstances will prevent Bradley from joining his own family in attending the services.
"Because of the time of the game on Sunday, it makes it difficult for me to be there," Bradley said in his post-game press conference. "But my family will be there to support Isaiah. I mean, we're family. Tacoma's small. We all know each other. So I know my family will be there for me."
Avery feels connected to the tragedy as much as anyone in the organization, being a close friend going way back in the Tacoma days and seeing Isaiah as a mentor.
"I look up to him. The way he handled this situation, a lot of people criticized it and say what they want to say, but I respect him a lot. He was able to go through that and still be here for his team and, like I said, play at a high level. So I really appreciate Isaiah. And I'm there for his family. We all are. And we're praying for him. I know that he's going to continue to play hard for his sister."
Bradley discussed how Thomas has been able to play through the pain and how the team has tried to help him through the ordeal.
"I know it's going to be hard on Isaiah, but it's our job as his teammates, as his brothers, to make sure we're there for him. One thing I know about Isaiah is that his mindset is to play for his sister, continue to play the way that he's playing, and to just have fun, and appreciate every day that he's able to wake up. And all the little things for him I know that's really important. And he looks at life different.”
At the end of the day, the Celtics put their lives and family above all else. Al Horford took flack from some the land of hot takes when he skipped a game to be with his newborn daughter earlier this year, and other players have missed time for paternity or bereavement leave in the past. This principle is crucial to Stevens in not just reenforcing the culture they have built, but just for the sake of compassion nd empathy.
"Tomorrow [the funeral] is a lot more important than Sunday (Game 1)," Stevens said in his post-game press conference. "If it's difficult it's difficult but it's just a basketball game. So he'll be ready to play. And if he decides when he gets there that it's too much, that's OK. That's fine. This is a lot more important."