BOSTON -- Starving for offense in the third quarter against the surging Warriors, the Celtics looked for a spark and found Kelly Olynyk, who accrued 22 points in the final 28 minutes of the game. The Celtics lost 124-119 in double overtime, but Olynyk delivered the best offensive performance of his NBA career, considering the strength of the opponent, the myriad of ways he scored, and the timeliness of his buckets.
For the game, Olynyk scored 28 total points on 11-of-21 shooting, both season-highs, in 37 minutes of action. In the middle of the third quarter, the Celtics immediately turned to Olynyk by running a dribble handoff at the top of the key:
Warriors center Festus Ezeli is a strong rim protector, but it's not easy for him to step up and defend a 7-footer behind the arc. Olynyk's shot only grazed the net, as a sign of things to come. He shot 3-of-5 from behind the arc over this final stretch, which included this shot from the corner in overtime:
Evan Turner does a good job of drawing the attention of Andrew Bogut, which gives Olynyk just enough time to get his shot off quickly to tie up the game. This is a big-time shot by Olynyk, and is a glimpse of what he's capable of as long as he's engaged. When Olynyk is fed the ball, and empowered to be a pure scorer, he tends to deliver.
Olynyk was also major threat in transition, which is especially admirable against Golden State's defense, which entered Friday with the NBA's fifth-best defensive rating.
Olynyk looks like Rob Gronkowski running down the seam catching a touchdown from Tom Brady. That level of effort deserves to be rewarded, and Turner tossed a perfect pass Olynyk's way, who finished the play with outstanding body control at the rim.
With all five Warriors defenders focused on Isaiah Thomas' isolation with Stephen Curry, Olynyk makes a smart read and cuts to the paint. Draymond Green nearly blocks the shot, but Olynyk's reverse layup freed him to get the ball out to give Boston a lead.
The Warriors began to switch almost all pick-and-rolls, which was an area the Celtics used to facilitate Olynyk the ball in advantageous situations.
"If they're gonna switch, we have to exploit it someway," Olynyk said after the game. "If they're gonna switch, throw it inside, they're gonna have to come double and you're gonna get open shots. Or your gonna be able to get a good move to the basket."
Olynyk was one of the NCAA's top low post scorers at Gonzaga, often showcasing quick footworked, much like the shot above. Olynyk's been slow to adjust in the NBA, partially because of the dissolution of the post up, but he's done well so far this year, scoring 1.05 points per possession, per Synergy via NBA.com.
It's not difficult to shoot over the top against Shaun Livingston, who's a lanky 6-foot-7, but it's even easier when the switch occurs against Stephen Curry, like the play below.
It's not rocket science to get a matchup like this. Olynyk simply slips the screen, knowing the Warriors will switch. But the finish is impressive, since Bogut is lurking and nearly blocks the shot. Notice how Olynyk keeps the ball high above his head, and doesn't bring it down, which was key in the completion of the basket.
Olynyk got off to an excruciatingly slow start this season, but in five games in December he's averaging 18.2 points on an 65.1 eFG% in just 24.1 minutes per game. It's a small sample, but the Celtics appear to be feeding him the ball. When Olynyk has attempted over 10 shots this season, the Celtics are 7-1, and it might not be a coincidence.
"Once he gets going, he's hard to stop," Turner said of Olynyk's performance. "He was great for us. He made some big plays and big shots. He played tough. He's been playing great the past month and it's great for his career. But it's even better for us to have a 7-footer wandering around doing what he can do."
Turner is right: there aren't many 7-footers that can do what Olynyk does. Of all qualifying 7-footers, Olynyk ranks second in the NBA in 3-point attempts (72) and percentage (37.5%), behind his idol, Dirk Nowitzki.
And when Kelly's shot is falling, his "pump and go" is lethal. After growing up playing point guard, Olynyk is able to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, draw fouls, or create for his teammates. As displayed against the Warriors, Olynyk can score off-ball, via cuts and transition, or in the half court off screens, spot ups, and the pick-and-pop.
But these performances don't come as frequently as they should. It could be due to Olynyk's psyche, similar to Jeff Green who'd score 30 points one game, and then fewer than 10 over the next couple.
But Green was incessantly enabled with the Celtics. Olynyk isn't; so what if it's simply a matter of forcing Olynyk to be a primary scorer like he was against the Warriors? Call more plays designed to get him the ball -- off-ball screens, after-timeouts, and pick-and-pops -- or simply facilitate the ball his way through the motion offense.
Since last season, Olynyk shoots 26.1% when he attempts 5 or fewer shots, 41.2% between 6 and 9 attempts, and 54.3% when he attempts 10 or more.
Do Olynyk's percentages improve with more attempts because he starts off well, so he's given more shots?
Or does he take longer to warm up, and needs the ball more consistently to develop a flow within the game?
If it's the former, then maybe Olynyk is who many people think he is: a role player who occasionally explodes like he did against the Warriors.
But what if it's the latter? What if the key to unlocking Olynyk's potential is to force the ball his way and make him a scorer?
Maybe the Boston Celtics will find out this season by providing Kelly Olynyk the opportunity to prove himself with a heavier workload volume.