BOSTON – Bring on LeBron.
With a 115-105 Game 7 win, the Celtics have survived a phenomenal series from John Wall, Bradley Beal and company to move on and continue their outside shot at banner 18.
The Celtics have returned to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2012, when they were vanquished by LeBron James as he began his incredible run for his first NBA title. Now they come in as the significant underdog against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has apparently flipped the switch so hard that they ripped it off the wall.
It was an incredible well-rounded display from the Celtics’ entire rotation, but they were carried on the bouncy manbun of Kelly Olynyk, who had the game of his life.
But the Celtics have the King in the Fourth, who once again slayed the enemy at the gate to his kingdom. He dominated, launching daggers left and right during the Celtics’ 18-2 run to open the fourth and grab their first double digit lead of the night.
“You dream of winning game sevens. You dream of playing in the Garden,” Thomas said. “The fans were amazing. Kelly was MVP tonight. He did it all.”
Olynyk to TNT: "Brad called me this morning and told me what you have to be is your best when your best is needed.”#Celtics— Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) May 16, 2017
Marcus Smart, who had a classic cobra game, kicked off the winning run. When Bradley Beal was going off, Smart took the assignment to shut him down and turned the game on his head. He rattled home an open three to start the run and made winning plays all over the floor to keep it rolling.
“You’ve gotta be willing to go out there and die for it,” Smart said.
Marcus Smart on Bradley Beal = ️ on pic.twitter.com/yAfVaX1sln— Marc D'Amico (@Marc_DAmico) May 16, 2017
When The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor asked Smart to define his game, he said, “Junkyard dog.” There just isn’t a better metaphor for Smart’s performance in Game 7 than straight from the
horse’s dog’s mouth.
But it was rookie Jaylen Brown who put them in position to make their run. He had a hustle game for the ages to endear himself to the Boston crowd, flying on both ends in transition and even grabbing a defensive rebound jumping from his booty.
Jaylen Brown is thrown to the ground & STILL grabs the rebound by launching himself through the air. The rook isn't shying away from Game 7. pic.twitter.com/aanJGutJ2O— Taylor C. Snow (@taylorcsnow) May 16, 2017
"It was just heart plays," Brown said. "I was just trying to win, to be honest."
That effort to win included one last backdoor slam past a sleeping John Wall, enjoying the comforts of the weak side of the defense on an ATO.
The first mistake came when Scott Brooks pulled Markieff Morris in the late third quarter tied at 79., putting out a front court of Bojan Bogdanovic, Jason Smith, and a struggling Ian Mahinmi. The Celtics sent out Kelly Olynyk and Al Horford, who played around with pick and roll actions high above the key to open up the floor. Thomas was able to work through the screens and let the ball swinging begin. The Celtics sliced up this lineup, building a comfortable lead that could withstand Beal’s second run.
CelticsBlog asked Brooks about the decision to make that sub and roll with the big bench lineup.
“I knew Kieff needed a sub. At that point, he was in the high to mid-30s [in minutes,]” Brooks said. “It was everybody; we’re all in this together. We all have to do our jobs to stop a team like Boston.”
But every time the Wizards hit back, another Celtics role player would take over. Kelly Olynyk was next at bat and finished with a career-high 26 points along with four rebounds and four assists. Olynyk broke out everything in his arsenal, including his seldom used low-post game to slip some nifty finger rolls by smaller defenders.
“He played a hell of a game,” Markieff Morris said. “Probably the best game he played all year.”
When he drilled a big three with 3:25 left, Olynyk finally let it all out with a bear hug for Isaiah. The man rocking the bun had reached the peak of his climb to one night of greatness, taking in the view from the summit.
From the top, he looked out beyond the horizon to 18,624 fans screaming his name.
“To have 20,000 people thrive off that, it was pretty special to be a part of,” Olynyk said. When asked if he heard the numerous “Kelly!” chants, Olynyk said, “Yeah, I did hear that in between the MVP chants for Isaiah.”
When CelticsBlog asked Olynyk if he will stick with the man bun for eternity after this performance, he looked down and laughed. “That’s a good question. Time will tell.”
Nobody was more excited for Kelly than his rook, Jaylen Brown. They battled alongside each other in Game 7 and were the glue that filled the cracks for this team Monday.
“Aw K-Dawg. He does what he does, man,” Brown said. “Kelly’s been contributing all year, they’ve been kicking him early in the year, sayin this and sayin that, now everybody loves him. So I’m happy for him.”
The Wizards made it competitive, but the Celtics had built themselves enough space to withstand that run. When CelticsBlog asked Bradley Beal what the team was thinking during the Celtics’ early fourth quarter run, he remained defiant.
“We were still confident, No matter how big the lead was we chipped away and got it to 5. We were in the game mentally, they just made more plays down the stretch.”
Whatever Brooks and the Wizards threw at the Celtics, Stevens had a plan, and his role players pulled it off for him. The Celtics bench had just 5 points in Game 6.
They had 48 points in Game 7.
“We tried to figure out this thing in the game really quick, but (Olynyk) just made shots,” Marcin Gortat said.
"When we stopped the shots from outside, he went to the post and started scoring against our small guys," Gortat said. "It is what it is. We can't trap Olynyk in the post if they have so many shooters on the three-point arc. He was the difference today."
The shooters keeping the floor spread was the key to unlocking this final run to win the series. Stevens saw the Wizards had too many slow, big, and mediocre defenders on the floor and wanted to take them out of the paint. From there, they would have to scramble to find spread shooters and eventually run themselves ragged in circles.
CelticsBlog asked Stevens about the game plan to run this extra-high double pick-and-roll.
“We did that in the first half too quite a bit. They were putting so much attention on Isaiah, we decided to put the HORNS screen up 10 feet or so to give him more space to turn the corner and he did a really good job with that. Both in the first half it was a very efficient action in the first half and it was so again in the second. That only works if you got guys that can shoot around it, so we had a good shooting lineup in and guys played well together.”
They’ll need to keep it rolling to have a chance against LeBron and the Cavs with their first shot coming at the Garden Wednesday night.
“We’ll celebrate this win until about twelve AM tonight, then we’re moving on to the next series,” Avery Bradley said. “We have to have short memory. We understand that. But this is a big time accomplishment for our team. Now we have to prepare against Cleveland. They’re a very good team and we will be ready.”
Jaylen Brown is in disbelief, even if he’s not quite playing like it.
"I was fired up for us, fired up for the team," Brown said. "This is Game 7, the Eastern Conference (semifinals). Two years ago, I was just in high school. It's an amazing feeling just being here."
Not that Brown is scared of LeBron and Cleveland or anything.
“If [Olynyk] keeps his roll through the playoffs, I think we get to the Finals.”
When asked what it would take to beat Cleveland, Marcus Smart had a simple answer.
They nearly attained it Monday night in Game 7. With one day to prepare, it will be the biggest achievement of their lives to keep it rolling into the Conference Finals.