CHICAGO — Celtics center Amir Johnson started 77 games during the regular season, but on Friday he remained out of the starting lineup for the fourth time in six games in this opening-round series against the Bulls.
After dropping the first two games to eighth-seeded Chicago, Celtics coach Brad Stevens has preferred to go with a smaller, more skilled lineup, and it has left Johnson relegated to little more than a spectator.
But Stevens said he greatly admires how Johnson has handled what would seem to be a frustrating situation.
"He's been the biggest cheerleader, a total team guy," Stevens said. "He's been what Amir has always been. Amir is a really good player, and his value is even more because he makes the guys around him better when he plays with them, but also when he's on their bench or on their team. He's a positive guy. I admire Amir for his ability to stay positive through anything. It's a really admirable quality."
Point guard Isaiah Thomas remained on schedule to travel to Tacoma, Wash., after Game 6 on Friday so he could attend his sister's funeral on Saturday at noon.
Chyna Thomas, 22, was killed in a one-car crash in Federal Way, Wash., on April 15. After the Celtics' Game 2 loss, Isaiah Thomas went to Tacoma for two days to be with his family. He rejoined his teammates in Chicago prior to Game 3.
Thomas was likely to be accompanied by a small contingent of Celtics staffers, and Stevens declined to comment on whether any players would go on the trip. The Celtics entered the night facing the possibility of either playing Game 7 against the Bulls or Game 1 against the Wizards on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Boston, so travel logistics could be a challenge.
Guard Avery Bradley, who is also from Tacoma, said he was considering going to the funeral. He said he has admired how Thomas has handled himself in such a difficult situation.
"Around this time you just kind of want to be by yourself and with your family," Bradley said. "He's having to come in here and sometimes you don't want to see people laughing or joking around. You just almost want everybody to feel like you, and be quiet. But I feel like he's been handling it as best as anyone could, and we've been trying to be there for him. And just whenever he wants to talk, we're here."
Celtics legend Larry Bird on Friday resigned from his role as president of the Indiana Pacers.
"I've obviously admired him since he played for the Celtics, and I thought that he did a tremendous job as a coach and front office person in Indiana," Stevens said. "When I was there, the runs they went on for all the years he was there was really impressive. So whatever he chooses to do and look forward to, we certainly all wish him the best."
Hot streak ahead?
The Celtics won Games 4 and 5 of this series despite making just 19 of 77 3-pointers (24.7 percent). Before Game 6, though, Stevens remained confident that his team would find a rhythm before too long. "You go through stuff like that," he said. "My hope is that water finds its level. You always hope water finds its level when things aren't going well, then you never talk about it when you're making every shot." . . . Celtics forward Gerald Green on Friday started for the fourth consecutive game in place of Johnson. Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo, meanwhile, missed his fourth consecutive game because of a broken right thumb.