After Tuesday's dismal collapse in Atlanta, Brad Stevens implored his team to be more physical. He said, "when it comes easy, we've been good; when it's tough, we haven't." Furthermore:
"I've said this before and I believe it to be true: The game honors the more physical team," Stevens said. "It does night in and night out. We've just got to improve in that area. ... It is what it is. I'm not crazy enough to think that if it doesn't change, we'll be sitting up here a lot like this."
That locker room material set the stage for last night's game against the Pistons. Although Detroit came in to the game with a 3-15 record, they still boast a formidable front line of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, two of the more promising big men in the league. That meant another start for Tyler Zeller as the team's defensive stopper with Kelly Olynyk coming off the bench.
If you had asked me before the game to predict who would make a huge impact and stop the Celtics five-game losing streak, I might have guessed a vet like Rondo or Green who would put the team on his shoulders to pull out a win in front of the home crowd. Maybe a spark from Turner or Thornton off the bench would be the difference.
I would have never guessed Olynyk. Slump aside, KO's game--particularly on defense--doesn't suit itself to banger ball with Detroit's twin towers. And yet, KO came up huge.
People will point to Olynyk's offensive output as a sign that he's back. Scoring 20 points and having your teammates saying "in Kelly we trust" in post game interviews are surely all positives, but it's on the defensive end where I thought he got much better. In the first half, he got beat a bunch of times and reached with his hands rather than move his feet, but in the second, that all changed.
Let's be clear: Drummond and Monroe killed us over the course of the entire game. I mean, check out their shot charts:
Over four quarters and an overtime, they accounted for 21 out of Detroit's 36 made baskets and half of their 102 points. However, over a twelve minute span between the third and fourth, they mustered only six points with KO (and Brandon Bass) on the floor and the Celtics turned a 2-point deficit into an 11-point lead.
If the Celtics offense is predicated on reading-and-reacting, their defense by committee depends on reacting-and-recovering and Olynyk did that well in the second half. Maybe he's not a rim protector or fleetest of foot, but if he can get his seven-foot frame in the right position, he can be effective.
Bass gambles on the entry pass to Monroe, but with Kelly remaining aware of his man (Drummond) and the now freed up Monroe, Olynyk slides over to help Bass. (It's also important to note that Pressey and Turner are there to cover Drummond.) Monroe finds a way to get a reverse lay up, but it's good to see Olynyk make the right rotation. So many times over the last few games, he'd be a step late on other front court tandems like Gasol and Randolph, Noah and Gasol, or Duncan and Diaw.
After Rondo (lazily) loses Augustine on a pick-and-pop, Olynyk takes over the defensive coverage and blocks the lay up attempt.
He doesn't block Monroe's shot, but that Laimbeer-esque hands-straight-up contest is enough to alter the shot and start the break. He finishes it with a transition K3lly.
Another example of great help D from Olynyk on Bass' man. BB buys Josh Smith's pump fake, but Olynyk's right there to stuff the driving lane and block his shot.
Credit Bass for taking away Monroe's left hand, but it's Olynyk sneaking in from the blind side to get that steal.
Again, in overtime, OIynyk does a great job making his presence felt in crunch time. Physicality doesn't have to mean muscling guys. He's not exactly throwing his weight around in the paint, but a bump on Monroe gives Sullinger enough time to get in defensive position and cutting off the Caron Butler's spin helps force a turnover.
As mentioned, Zeller has replaced Olynyk in the starting five for defensive purposes, but if Kelly can prove that he won't be a liability and even contribute on D, we could see him as a starter again very soon. In Kelly we trust indeed.