BOSTON – In Monday’s pivotal Game 7 matchup against Washington, Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens shortened up his bench.
And in doing so, it went a long way in Boston closing out their second-round series with a 115-105 victory over the Washington Wizards which advanced them to the Eastern Conference finals.
Boston, which played three reserves primarily instead of the usual four or five, had plenty of heroic performances on Monday night, led by Kelly Olynyk’s playoff career-high 26 points.
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But the Celtics’ entire second unit which for the most part consisted of Olynyk, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, provided some much-needed production and toughness at both ends of the floor.
“The bench was a big factor in Game Five (at the TD Garden) and Game Seven,” said Boston head coach Brad Stevens. “The home team’s bench seemed to play really well.”
For the game, Boston’s second unit outscored the Wizards backups 48-5.
Boston’s Olynyk provided a major lift offensively, providing a much-needed complimentary scorer that the Celtics could turn to in helping them emerge with the victory.
“We needed it,” Olynyk said. “That’s a tough team that we played seven tough games against and they can score. We needed to help out the starters, help out Isaiah (Thomas). He’s been putting us in really good positions and the type of attention they were drawing to him, he was getting rid of it and putting us in great positions and we had to make plays. That’s what we tried to do.”
And it wasn’t just scoring, either.
While Marcus Smart stepped up to make a pair of huge three-pointers, it was his work on the boards down the stretch that paid huge dividends for the Celtics.
In addition to his 13 points, he had six rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots.
And then there was the rookie Jaylen Brown, who came into Game 7 having missed 14 of his last 18 shots from the field.
But like Smart, he was still managing to impact the game even when his shot wasn’t falling which is why Stevens continued to dole out minutes to Brown.
However, Brown hit a 3-pointer early in the game, and followed that up with an acrobatic finish at the rim which tied the game at 72-all with 4:55 to play, a basket that capped off a 13-8 Celtics run.
Brown would finish with nine points on 3-for-5 shooting with three rebounds. And a plus/minus of +8.
“I was fired up,” Brown said. “Fired up for the team. Two years ago I was just in high school. It’s an amazing feeling just being here, so I was super excited and I’m glad we pulled it off.”
And while Thomas had a Thomas-like 29 points to lead the Celtics, all the talk afterward centered around Olynyk and the Celtics bench which proved to be the ultimate difference-maker in Game 7.
“Kelly Olynyk came in, I think he gave us 26 off the bench,” recalled Washington’s Marcin Gortat. “It can’t happen. It can’t happen. Their bench was really good (tonight). They outplayed us. Outplayed our starters and our second unit. You can’t win games if you’re going to let them do things like that.”