BOSTON — With the way the past couple of weeks have gone for him off the floor, Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas was due for some smiles on it. He got some on Sunday in Game 1 of the conference semifinals against the Wizards — some bloody, gap-filled smiles.
Just about six minutes into the opener, with the Celtics trying to clean up after a brutal start left them with a 20-3 deficit, Thomas was trying to fight around a curl to keep up with the Wizards’ Otto Porter. But Porter got his elbow up near Thomas’ cheek and knocked a front tooth right out of his mouth. Thomas did what any rational person would: squinted, scanned the floor, then picked the tooth up where it had landed a few feet away.
Thomas brought the tooth the team physician Dr. Brian McKeon and went back to the floor. At one point, Thomas looked up and said thing to teammate Kelly Olynyk.
“I couldn’t take him serious when he was talking to me,” Olynyk said. “I didn’t even know what happened. He just started talking, and I was like, ‘Did you lose a tooth, bro?’”
Thomas laughed about the injury after the game. “It just bothers me to talk,” Thomas said, with a breathy lisp. “My tongue just goes right through my tooth. I’ve never had dental problems, so this is new. I have had teammates, I have clowned them about their tooth being out, and now I’m one of them. So hopefully we can replace it as soon as possible.”
For Thomas, the loss of the tooth was soothed by the fact that he knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to begin to turn the tide. And Thomas kept plugging from there, finishing with 33 points and nine assists (with just two turnovers) to lead the Celtics to a wild, 123-111 win and a 1-0 series lead.
“He made both 3s right after it fell out,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “So, maybe that tooth was holding him back a little. But, no, I feel bad for him because he’s going to have some pretty significant dental work.”
Thomas shrugged off those worries and was especially effective during the third quarter, when the Celtics walloped the Wizards by a 36-16 margin to erase the early deficit altogether. In the third, Thomas was 5 for 8 from the field with a team-high 12 points.
There was much more going on for Thomas, who had flown to Washington after the Celtics clinched their series win over the Bulls in the opening round on Friday. He gave the eulogy at the funeral of his sister, Chyna, on Saturday, and arrived back in Boston at 4 a.m. ahead of Sunday’s 1 p.m. start. Chyna Thomas died in a car accident on April 15, the day before the start of the playoffs, and Isaiah Thomas has been privately coping with the loss on off-days.
During his eulogy, Thomas said, “I wanted to give up and quit. And never in my life have I ever thought about quitting. I realized quitting isn’t an option.”
The tooth, then, offered some comic relief to an emotionally draining two weeks. Sitting to chat with reporters after the game, Thomas’ exhaustion was evident. His eyes drooped, and he held them shut for seconds at a time. He poked and prodded at the empty spot in his mouth where his tooth had been. Thomas said he had originally popped the tooth back in — or, “repositioned” it, as the Celtics officially said — but it came back out.
“I have taken a thousand hits like that and my tooth never came out,” Thomas said, “so I always said pain is temporary and we’ll worry about it when the time comes.”
Olynyk had a suggestion for Thomas going forward. “We’ll have to get him a helmet with a facemask for the next game,” he said.