Kelly Olynyk and the Bench Saved the Celtics Season
Let us travel back in time. A simpler time when the corner three was niche shot selection and NBA players knew how to take and make a mid-range jumper and were not derided for doing so. Our Delorean thankfully does not have to go too far back into the future… just nine years. Back to the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals. In particular Game Seven. The Boston Celtics were taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers and the game would feature one of the best one-on-one matchups of all time with LeBron James going for 45 and Paul Pierce responding with 41 of his own. However, the player that saved the game for the Celtics was none other than backup center P.J. Brown who was no spring chicken at 38 years old. Brown was perfect from the floor that day going for 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting (2-for-2 FTs), six rebounds (three offensive) and a steal. He even hit one of the most important shots of the game, a 15-footer with the shot clock winding down in a 89-88 game to go up by three. He followed up the astoundingly confident jumper by bothering James on the ensuing possession to force a miss, which essentially ended the Cavs chance for a comeback. That was probably the best performance by a Boston Celtics bench player in the ECSF… until Kelly Olynyk last night.
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The best part about Olynyk’s performance was that it immediately brought back memories of the P.J. Brown game. You knew heading into the Game Seven against the Washington Wizards that the Celtics bench, which scored all of five points in Game Six, would need to step up at home in order to eliminate the Wizards. The question was who was going to be that guy? Olynyk answered emphatically and one man saw it happening before anybody else
Feel like Olynyk is going to have a PJ Brown 2008 Game 7 performance
— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) May 15, 2017
(Quick Tangent) For those of you that do not know, “StoolGreenie” is “Greenie” A.K.A. Dan Greenberg of Barstool Sports. While the majority of the site is now directed at college students and has lost a great deal of its luster for actual sports coverage, guys like Greenie, Rear Admiral and Jerry Thornton are still holding down the fort when it comes to Boston sports. The reason Barstool was originally so invaluable as a source for team information was because these were guys that watched every second of every game during the season, but were also just fans that put down their thoughts. It is why on so many occasions when they make seemingly crazy predictions they come true more times than not.
Well… except for this time. This time Greenie was wrong… only because Kelly Olynyk pulled a far better version of the original P.J. Brown game.
While the bench only tallied five points in the previous game, Olynyk matched that number by himself by the end of the first quarter. Those five first quarter points were a simple statement; this game was going to be different and the bench was going to show up. It is statistically proven that bench players perform better at home and it should be no surprise because the crowd is behind them and they can draw their energy from the home faithful. Olynyk took every single ounce of their energy and turned it into something amazing: 26 points in 28 minutes (10-of-14 from the floor, 2-of-6 from three–in other words he did not miss a single two point shot), five rebounds and four assists while committing just one turnover. Kelly Olynyk played the best game of his career in the most important game he has ever played in the NBA.
Olynyk, usually a slow moving guy that can get rag-dolled by even the most adequate of bigger fours stood fairly stout on the defensive end and was his usual awkwardly unguardable self on the offensive side. The Celtics continuously ran high pick-and-rolls between he and Isaiah Thomas and no matter the man defending it, Olynyk was constantly open because of good decision making by both Thomas and Marcus Smart (Thomas finished the game with 29 points and 12 assists to just two turnovers; he was a bit indecisive early on by the tougher the game got, the better and more confident Thomas played).
Kelly Olynyk Was Not Alone on the Bench
While Kelly Olynyk was the destroyer of the Wizards world in Game Seven, he was not alone in stepping up his production. Jaylen Brown came in and hit his first shot (a corner three) and while he did have some rookie moments like an unforced turnover and an awful closeout that both led to Wizards points, Brad Stevens kept him in the game and Brown rewarded him with a great effort (nine points in 19 minutes–just two missed shots, both threes–and three rebounds). And effort was the name of the game for the Celtics. They came out completely flat in the second half and went down by as many as six (70-64).
Sensing that the Celtics needed someone to jumpstart the team, Stevens turned to his Energizer Bunny Marcus Smart. After a couple of back-and-forth possessions, Smart, who has had some substantial shooting issues this postseason, hit a “no no…. YES!” Three-pointer to cut the lead to 72-70 before delivering an awful alley-oop pass to Jaylen Brown who miraculously turned it into a reverse layup alley-oop to tie the game. Isaiah Thomas and Bradley Beal would trade haymaker threes with Thomas getting in the last punch to push the Celtics ahead 82-79. Smart ended the scoring in the third quarter with his second three of the frame and the Celtics took an 85-79 advantage heading into the fourth.
The bench continued to work its magic in the final stanza as Brown opened up the scoring with a bucket to make it an eight point game. But while Brown opened up the scoring it was Olynyk that turned the affair into a religious experience. Remember, the Celtics bench scored a total of FIVE points in the Game Six down in D.C. Well, Olynyk scored a whopping 14 points in the fourth quarter ALONE. It was Olynyk that buried a dagger three ball with 3:26 to go that put the Celtics up 110-100, and he even chipped in a pair of assists and a couple of boards for good measure in the fourth. Before May 15, 2017, a Celtics bench player going off in a pivotal Game Seven was known as a P.J. Brown Game. Now though, Kelly Olynyk has taken that title, wrapped it up nicely, tied it in a bun and made it his own. No more P.J. Brown Games… now, it is a Kelly Olynyk experience.