Celtics

Boston Celtics' Isaiah Thomas got a big lift from the home fans. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Curtis Compton

When Isaiah Thomas went to the bench in the closing minutes of the first quarter of the Boston Celtics’ first-round playoff game against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday evening, he got a big ovation.

It wasn’t just for his 13 points so far in the game.

Since arriving in Boston on February 19, 2015, via a trade with the Phoenix Suns, Thomas has quickly become the face of the Boston Celtics franchise. The 5-foot-9 guard out of the University of Washington has spent much of this past NBA regular season carrying the city on his back. He did so well enough to receive “M-V-P” chants from the faithful crowd as the regular season winded down.

When Thomas lost his younger sister, Chyna, early Saturday morning in a single-car accident, everything changed. It was time for a city with an estimated population of 667,137, according to the latest U.S. Census, to lift the player who lifted the franchise and fanbase so many times over the course of the last 82 basketball games.

Before the start of the game against the Bulls, the crowd inside TD Garden acknowledged a moment of silence for Thomas’ sister. During that moment, television coverage showed Thomas with tears streaming down his face … simply overcome with emotions.

Emotions reached a peak, though, when Thomas drained a 35-foot 3-point shot with 8:35 left in the first quarter and the roof, figuratively, blew off the arena.

Despite his loss, Thomas played inspiring basketball in the Celtics loss, because the city of Boston and Celtics fans were lifting their “little guy with a big heart” in his moment of need.

Contact Anniston Star Sports Correspondent Chris Brown at news@annistonstar.com. Twitter: @ChrisBrown_AL.