Stevens, however, said he will leave the ultimate decision to Thomas if he changes his mind before the 6:30 p.m. ET tipoff, adding that “he’s really hurting” following his sister’s death.
“[Thomas] went through our shootaround. He is struggling,” Stevens said. “Obviously, it’s tragic circumstances that he and his family are going through right now and our thoughts are, first and foremost, with all of them.
“I think his intention is to play. We’ve talked a little bit last night and then again today about as he goes through it and if he feels like he needs to not [play], then whatever he wants. I think that one of the things that I’ve learned having been through situations in the past is that there’s really no right or wrong answer. It’s whatever’s right for him. That’s what we’ve encouraged him. And he’s really hurting. It’s a tough situation.”
Thomas received word that younger sister Chyna Thomas died early Saturday in a one-car crash on an interstate in their home state of Washington. She was 22. The Celtics’ All-Star guard was informed of her death following the team’s practice Saturday afternoon.
Stevens fielded five questions during his pregame news conference and all five were related to Thomas. Stevens said the Celtics have done all they can to console Thomas.
He also said he and Thomas spoke on Saturday night and again Sunday morning, and he’s leaving it in Thomas’ hands to do whatever he wants as far as playing.
“I think everybody reached out. It’s a close-knit team. He’s a big part of it,” Stevens said. “Isaiah’s a great teammate. Isaiah’s a great husband. He’s a great father. He’s a great guy, great son, and brother. And I think, ultimately, we just all tried to do our part in letting him know we were thinking about him and anything we could all do to help we’d do, that family and this particular situation with his family takes precedent over everything else going on. And that we’re here for him if he needs us.”
Added Stevens: “I don’t think there’s any question that people around here have a great affinity for him. And we’ve all, even in my short time here, when you see that really tough things happen to people, this [Boston] community really rallies around them. So you can already feel that. You can already feel, as I was at church this morning, I could feel people coming up to me and they all wanted to know how he was doing and all talking about it; when you get here, that’s all everybody wants to talk about. I think it’s going to be really emotional. And that’s part of what makes this place really special is they get it. I think they really appreciate Isaiah and I know Isaiah really appreciates everybody here.”
Stevens said his team is ready for Game 1 after three days of preparation and he said they will balance supporting Thomas with trying to compete on the court.
“Part of being supportive for him is putting our best foot forward,” Stevens said. “And letting him know it’s OK, whatever his emotions are at that time, it’s OK to let them out. Again, and you all know this from having really tough stuff happen: I don’t that there’s a script for this. I don’t know that there is a script for the emotions that somebody is supposed to show. I think that, ultimately, however you feel, that’s the way you feel. And I think that we’re here, again, as a support. And part of our support is to be great teammates and great teammates are ready to compete together and compete for each other.”
Inside the Celtics’ locker room, Gerald Green fought back emotions while trying to put into words what Thomas is going through.
“I’m playing this postseason for him,” said Green, who signed with the Celtics last summer in large part because of his relationship with Thomas. The two played together previously in Phoenix.
Added Green: “I can’t really explain how tough this is right now, man.”
Celtics big man Al Horford said that Thomas has encouraged the team to focus on the postseason and the players are trying to honor that heading into Game 1.