BOSTON — No one could have predicted Kelly Olynyk taking over a Game 7 in the second round of the NBA playoffs. But Game 7s often produce surprising heroes, and that’s exactly what happened Monday night at TD Garden, where the Celtics punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference finals with a 115-105 win over the Washington Wizards.
“Kelly was the MVP. He did it all,” Celtics star Isaiah Thomas said. “He made 3-pointers. He took it to the hole. He played really tough, and he’s a big reason why we won (Monday night).”
The Celtics’ bench outscored the Wizards’ reserves 48-5, led by Olynyk’s career playoff high of 26 points. He also added five rebounds and four assists. Celtics guard Marcus Smart scored 13 points with six rebounds and four assists off the bench, while rookie forward Jaylen Brown chipped in nine points.
Boston’s bench proved to be the difference in the most important game of its season.
“I think we’re 10 or 11 deep,” Brown said. “We have a long line of people who are ready to play when they’re called on. I think we pride ourselves on that. Everybody is ready when Coach (Brad Stevens) calls. He has all the power to pick and choose how he wants to go with the matchup, but everybody is ready and that’s all we can do.”
In Game 7, the matchup called for more Olynyk.
“They were putting a lot of attention on (Thomas), and he was putting us in great spots,” Olynyk said.
“And then we’re playing 4-on-3, and if they don’t run at you or try to run at you too hard, you’ve got to be able to make a basketball play out there. That’s what they did. They weren’t going to let him make plays at the end, they were gonna make other people do it. So, someone had to do it.
The C’s big man scored a team-high 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the first half, which kept the Celtics in the game as the Wizards closed the second quarter strong. But Olynyk shined in the second half, pouring in another 14 points — including two clutch 3-point shots — as Washington fought to trim Boston’s lead.
His last 3-pointer gave the Celtics a 110-100 lead with 3:26 left to play. It essentially sealed the win.
The Celtics will need Olynyk and the rest of the bench to continue to play well or they won’t have much of a chance to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals.
The Cavs, just like the Wizards, likely will trap Thomas on the perimeter and force him to be a playmaker instead of a scorer. Olynyk, Smart, Brown and the rest of the bench must consistently knock down open outside shots as a result.
Luckily for Stevens, he has plenty of options on the bench. Whatever the situation, the C’s coach has multiple guys who can step in and provide scoring, defense, energy, etc. Very few teams have the ability to go eight or nine deep in the playoffs, but the Celtics certainly do.
Boston’s bench is its biggest strength. It was the difference Monday night in Game 7 and must continue to be a positive for the C’s if they are going to dethrone the defending champs and reach the NBA Finals.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images