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Celtics finish off Bulls in six games

Avery Bradley passes Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg after sinking a 3-pointer in the second quarter of Game 6. Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

CHICAGO — Isaiah Thomas went to the locker room with a couple of minutes remaining in the Celtics’ series-clinching 105-83 Game 6 win over the Bulls so he could get an early start on a solemn departure.

A private jet was waiting to fly him and his family to Tacoma, Wash., so he could attend the Saturday funeral for his 22-year-old sister, Chyna Thomas, who was killed in a car crash April 15.

Thomas’s wife, Kayla, and youngest son, Jaiden, waited patiently for him in a golf cart outside the team’s locker room as Thomas showered and dressed and gave his teammates one final message before leaving.


“Just prepare,” he told them. “I’m going to do my part and prepare. And once I get back, I’ll be ready to go.”

Several Celtics thanked Thomas for guiding them to this point, particularly given everything he has been through.

They were privately hoping that the Hawks would defeat the Wizards on Friday to force a Game 7 in that series, thus pushing the start of Boston’s conference semifinals back to Tuesday and potentially giving more players a chance to join Thomas in Tacoma.

But the Wizards won and will now come to TD Garden for a startlingly quick turnaround for both teams, with Game 1 slated for Sunday at 1 p.m.

Mostly, though, the Celtics are simply glad to still be playing given how grisly the start of this series was for them. Just over one week ago, top-seeded Boston faced a 2-0 deficit against the eighth-seeded Bulls after dropping consecutive games at home. The prevailing question was not necessarily whether the Bulls would win, but whether they would come home to Chicago and complete a sweep.

But then the Celtics slowly regrouped after being crushed by the death of Thomas’s sister, and then Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo was ruled out with a broken thumb, and then coach Brad Stevens made a stunning yet ultimately sterling lineup change. And then, this series was never the same.


“At the end of the day,” forward Gerald Green said, “I think [Thomas] said that when he came back in high spirits, the series was over after that.”

Avery Bradley was on top of everything

Green’s presence didn’t hurt, either. After Game 2, Stevens inserted the veteran into the starting lineup for center Amir Johnson. The Celtics were getting pummeled on rebounds, and Stevens reasoned that their best hope elsewhere would be to spread the floor with more shooters and athleticism.

Over the next four games, Green made 9 of 22 3-pointers and averaged 11 points, and the Celtics did not lose. Green said he had to stay prepared for this moment, but he mostly deflected credit to Stevens, who on Friday won his first playoff series.

“Even after Game 2,” Green said, “he never lost faith in us.”

Stevens, meanwhile, noticed a different fire in his players after they dropped Game 2. This is a team that has long thrived as a disrespected, disheveled underdog. And it is difficult to fill that role when you are the top-seeded team in a conference.

But suddenly, there was a perfect opportunity to feel, well, jilted, and maybe that was just perfect for this team.

“I think they appreciated being counted out a little bit,” Stevens said.


When this idea was relayed to Jae Crowder in the locker room on Friday, he smiled and nodded.

“You’ve got a lot of guys in this locker room who have been through the ropes of having to prove themselves,” he said. “It’s just our DNA. It’s not going to be pretty, but we don’t care if it’s pretty.”

As they systematically dismantled the Bulls on Friday night, the Celtics looked like the engaged, eager team that stormed through a 53-win campaign. The Bulls, however, looked like a team that did not squeak into the playoffs until the final game of the regular season.

The fans here who had been pleasantly surprised by the start of this series never saw any of the strong play that carried the Bulls through Boston. And by Friday, it was clear this city’s frustrations had boiled over.

The fans booed the Bulls off the court at halftime. They booed their missed shots. They even booed this city’s new quarterback, No. 2 overall draft pick Mitch Trubisky, when he waved to the crowd wearing his crisp new Bears pullover. By the fourth quarter, fans were relentlessly chanting “Fire Hoiberg,” referring to the Bulls coach.

The Celtics did not get caught up in any of this, though. They made 16 3-pointers, committed just nine turnovers, and surged to a 30-point lead that allowed four of their starters to sit for the entire fourth quarter.

In the locker room afterward, Crowder said, the mood was much more businesslike than celebratory, especially with Game 1 against the Wizards looming so soon. Boston and Washington split their four regular-season meetings this year, and their disdain for each other was quite obvious.


“We know we’ve got to do it all over again,” Crowder said, “so try not to dig ourselves a hole, and try to have control of the series from the start.”

Al Horford delivers

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.