Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Celtics’ Thomas will play in Game 2 vs. Chicago

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In any sport, the one thing a team can’t prepare for is the unknown.

Last week, the Boston Celtics were the toast of the Eastern Conference after outlasting the champion Cleveland Cavaliers for the top seed and home-court advantage. Then, the day before Boston’s playoff opener, Isaiah Thomas’ sister was killed in a car accident.

It’s created a delicate balancing act. This is a team that expected to be riding a big wave of momentum. Instead, Boston lost, 106-102, to Chicago in Game 1, and the possibilit­y looms Tuesday night of falling into an 0-2 hole.

But if there’s a group built for such a challenge, it would seem to be this one. There’s empathy in the locker room, and a coach adept at navigating rough water.

“I think the biggest thing is they really care about each other,” coach Brad Stevens said Monday. “It’s really tough when he’s sitting there and some of his family is back in Seattle. … But I think the next extension of your family is who you’re around every day, and your team. … They care about one another and they support one another. That’s what you hope you have in a team, but it’s probably not always the case.”

Stevens said Thomas plans to play in Game 2 Tuesday night then head to Washington state to be with his family and help complete funeral arrangemen­ts. Chyna Thomas died early Saturday in a one-car accident outside Tacoma. No funeral date is set, but Stevens said the Celtics plan to attend.

Thomas attended a film session and walk-through Monday, but did not speak with the media. Stevens said that after services for Thomas’ sister, the star guard intends to rejoin the team Friday for Game 3 in Chicago. Stevens, however, stressed that all plans are up to Thomas.

Stevens knows firsthand of how the Celtics can embrace one of their own. A year ago, he was allowed to miss a game to be at the bedside of Andrew Smith, who played for Stevens at Butler. Smith had cancer and his condition had worsened. Smith died a few days after Stevens visited.

Then there was the team’s public show of unity before its preseason opener in October. The players held hands during the national anthem, the display coming at time when NFL players, notably Colin Kaepernick, were protesting by kneeling.

Elsewhere

Kansas freshman Josh Jackson announced he will enter the NBA draft, which is June 22. Jackson, who released a statement Monday, was the Big 12 Conference newcomer of the year this past season after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and a berth in the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight. Jackson (6 feet 8) signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group. … Alabama forward Braxton Key is declaring for the NBA draft after leading the Crimson Tide in scoring as a freshman. He won’t hire an agent, giving him until May 24 to decide whether to return next season. … UAB junior forward William Lee (6-9) submitted his name to the NBA draft but hasn’t hired an agent.

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