Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas spent about six hours on Monday undergoing oral surgery after having one of his teeth knocked out in Game 1 of his team’s conference semifinal against the Wizards the previous afternoon.
He woke up on Tuesday with a mouth so swollen that he had to return to a doctor’s office for another four hours to receive extra medication. And when he arrived at TD Garden prior to Game 2, Celtics coach Brad Stevens could tell Thomas was not in good shape.
In addition to the pain, in addition to the mouth that looked like it had been stung by bees, Tuesday would have been the 23rd birthday of Thomas’s sister, Chyna Thomas, who was killed in an April 15 car crash.
There was emotional pain and there was searing pain, and it was everywhere.
“I just didn’t have the energy,” Thomas said. “But once I got around the guys and got to the arena, I felt like I could go, and I told them I could. There was no way I couldn’t play on her birthday. I wanted to win for her and I wanted to play well for her.”
With his battered teeth protected by a mouthguard, with his sister on his mind, and with his teammates needing him to rescue them just like he has rescued them in so many difficult situations this season, Thomas crafted one of the finest performances of his career.
The two-time All-Star poured in a career-high 53 points on 18-of-33 shooting, leading the Celtics to a stirring 129-119 win over the Wizards in overtime.
“I just don’t think a lot of guys would have even played this game,” Celtics forward Al Horford said. “So, it’s something special.”
“I thought he was going to really have to gut this one out,” Stevens said. “And he not only guts it out, he ends up with 50. Pretty impressive.”
The Celtics overcame double-digit deficits in both halves, including a 14-point hole in the third quarter. And then they surged back after trailing by 6 points with 2 minutes, 45 seconds left in regulation.
Thomas would not let them fade, not on this night. Most of the TD Garden crowd stood for the entire overtime, when Thomas poured in his final 9 points and silenced the Wizards to give Boston a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series. Game 3 will be played in Washington on Thursday night.
Video: Thomas fallaway in OT
Since dropping the first two games of their first-round series at home against the eighth-seeded Bulls, the Celtics have now won six games in a row.
For most of Game 2, Thomas and fellow All-Star John Wall were locked in a duel for the ages. The two made powerful play after powerful play, trading big shots in big moments.
But Wall, who played 47 minutes and finished with 40 points and 13 assists, appeared to tire at the end. He did not score or have an assist in overtime. Thomas, meanwhile, made all four of his shots and had 9 points, as he was once again serenaded by chants of “MVP.”
“I was so locked in in that fourth quarter and overtime,” Thomas said, “because I wanted to win the game so bad.”
Despite Thomas’s heroics, there were times when the Celtics appeared in great trouble. Afterward, Stevens said that his team was “really lucky” to win. Wizards coach Scott Brooks, meanwhile, was hopeful that his team would regroup at home, where it went 30-11 this season. But there was an inescapable feeling that his team had let a golden opportunity slip away.
“Hopefully we have some things go our way and get some breaks here and there,” Brooks said, “and then maybe we can make it a 2-1 series going into Game 4.”
The Wizards led by 6 points with 2:45 left in regulation before Thomas sliced the deficit in half with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Then with 1:38 left he drove into the lane and kicked the ball out to Terry Rozier, who hit a three from the right corner to tie the score at 110.
“There were times where you’d think the game would be over and they had the momentum,” Thomas said. “But we kept going.”
Rozier, who has been something of a revelation in these playoffs after an uneven regular season, had 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Video: Rozier 3-pointer
After Wall made one of two free throws to give the Wizards a 1-point lead, Thomas hit a stepback 20-footer to put the Celtics back in front.
Then with 32.6 seconds left Otto Porter hit a 3-pointer from the right corner, giving Washington a 114-112 edge.
Thomas was fouled with 14.4 seconds left and made both free throws, tying the score at 114.
The Wizards had a chance to win it in regulation, but Wall missed a tough, off-balance jumper before Bradley Beal corralled the rebound and airballed an open 15-footer.
“We got two good looks,” Brooks said.
At the start of overtime Marcus Smart soared in over Wizards center Marcin Gortat and grabbed an offensive rebound, and Gortat went to the bench after picking up his sixth foul on the play.
The Wizards briefly took a 117-114 lead on a Kelly Oubre 3-pointer, but then Horford scored inside and Thomas made a floater, and with 2:24 left Avery Bradley pilfered the ball from Wall and coasted in for a dunk that made it 120-117.
With the Celtics leading, 122-119, Thomas carved into the lane, rose, and drilled a 15-footer as he was fouled with 1:07 left. The ensuing free throw gave him 51 points for the night, and the Wizards never threatened again.