BOSTON -- On what would have been his late sister Chyna's 23rd birthday, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas overcame both his emotions -- and intensive dental work -- to will his team to an overtime victory against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.
Thomas poured in 53 points -- 29 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime -- as Boston posted a 129-119 victory at TD Garden to take a 2-0 lead in an Eastern Conference semifinal series.
"Today's my sister's birthday. She would have been 23 today," Thomas said as his emotions swelled at his postgame news conference. "So the least I can do is go out there and play for her."
Thomas immediately stared down at the table in front of him and then shielded his eyes while trying to blink back tears. The next question was posed to teammate Al Horford, sitting next to him on the podium, and gave Thomas an opportunity to compose himself.
Thomas later admitted that, in the hours before tipoff of Game 2, he wasn't sure he had the energy to push through a tough day.
"It just wasn't a good day for me with it being my sister's birthday, me being in the hospital for three or four hours today," said Thomas, who underwent oral surgery Monday to fix the tooth he lost in Sunday's Game 1 victory, then went to the hospital again on Tuesday to reduce the swelling that occurred around his mouth.
"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."
Chyna Thomas was killed in a single-vehicle accident on April 15, a day before the Celtics' playoff opener. On Saturday, Thomas utilized a small break in the playoff schedule to fly home to Tacoma, Washington, to attend her funeral.
As part of Thomas' eulogy that day, he noted how he "wanted to give up and quit" after learning of his sister's death. He said he realized that "quitting isn't an option. That's the easy way out. I will keep going for my sister."
Thomas arrived back in Boston at 4 a.m. Sunday morning and was at the arena by 10 a.m. for the Celtics' pregame walk-through. Thomas scored 33 points in Boston's Game 1 victory.
But what he did Tuesday might have been even more remarkable.
Equipped with a custom mouthguard to keep his surgically repaired teeth in place, Thomas spent much of the game touching his mouth worried that a few hard spills to the ground might have dislodged his repaired teeth.
Boston rallied from double-digit deficits in both halves, but it was Thomas who carried the Celtics offensively over the final 17 minutes of play.
His 50th point of the night came on a fadeaway jumper in which he got fouled and knocked to the ground in a three-point game. A crowd on edge for much of the night roared in delight as Thomas would not let this game get away.
Thomas finished with the second-highest postseason point total in franchise history, one point shy of John Havlicek's record from 1973.
Thomas' teammates marveled not only at the way he played through another highly emotional day, but his scoring output, too.
"He had it going for sure," Jae Crowder said. "[The Wizards] had no answer for him. He was just getting the ball, he was passing, he was able to attack and get to the free throw line at a high clip and just be aggressive."
During an on-court interview with TNT, Thomas fought his emotions while trying to detail where he found the energy to perform as he did.
"It's my sister. It's her birthday today," Thomas told TNT. "Happy birthday. She would have been 23 today. Everything I do is for her. And she's watching over me, so that's all her."
Asked where he finds the strength, Thomas told TNT: "My family, my friends -- they just tell me to keep going. My sister wouldn't want me to stop. The only thing about it is, once I leave this gym, I hit reality and she's not here. So that's the tough part. But when I'm in this arena, I can lock in, and I know everything I do is for her."
Against the Wizards, Thomas shot 18-of-33 from the floor, including 5-for-12 from beyond the arc. He also grabbed four rebounds and had four assists.
The point guard is the only Celtics player to have a 50-point game in both the regular season and the playoffs during the same season.
"He was not feeling good and was having a tough day," Stevens said after the game. "I thought he was really going to have to gut this one out. He not only guts it out, he ends up with 50."
Stevens noted how Thomas had endured two long days of dental work just to fix the injuries from Sunday's game.
"The tooth that was knocked out was not the only one that was affected, so he had some other issues there," Stevens said. "So he was in getting oral surgery [Monday]. A few hours after practice ended, he came by the office for a minute but was still ... I don't know if he went back to the dentist's today or went to the hospital today just to work on it some more, but he's continued to have some work on it."
Said Thomas: "[Monday] was a long six hours. Then even today I had to go back four or five hours today. And I can't say enough about the shock doctor who made my mouthguard, Dr. [John] Meola and [team physician] Dr. [Brian] McKeon. Today my mouth was so numb, I mean so swollen, this morning I had to go back to the hospital just to get a few meds to get the swelling down because I could barely talk.
"But I know once game time came, my guys would get me going and get me the energy to go out there and try to win a game."