ATLANTA – The build-up to Friday’s game was squarely centered around Al Horford returning to the Atlanta for the first time since he became a Boston Celtic.
But in the actually game, it was another Celtics’ big man – Kelly Olynyk – who stole the show.
And while Isaiah Thomas’ late-game heroics catapulted Boston to a 103-101 win over the Hawks, Olynyk’s play was instrumental in the Celtics being in position to put the pesky Atlanta team away.
The 7-footer came off Boston’s bench to score a season-high 26 points, 18 of which came in the first half.
“He (Olynyk) was really good,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He was really good.”
And while Olynyk’s 3-point shooting is certainly the weapon of choice that we’re used to seeing him hurt teams with, against the Hawks the 7-foot Olynyk actually looked and played like … a 7-footer.
He shot 9-for-11 from the field, with five of his made baskets being lay-ups courtesy of good ball movement and his willingness to spend more time around and finish, sometimes in traffic which is rare.
Olynyk also grabbed eight rebounds, among them a pair of offensive boards that led to points that in hindsight, were huge for the Celtics (25-15).
It was the kind of performance that we’ve seen Olynyk deliver before, only to struggle soon after.
Boston doesn’t need him to score 26 points a night, but they could use more of the inside-outside game he displayed which was problematic for the Hawks all game.
But more than anything else, Olynyk found himself wide open and to the Celtics’ credit, they managed to find him for easy scores.
“I wouldn’t say they were blatantly leaving me,” Olynyk said. “I think they were trying to help on other guys, help when (Thomas) drives. Other games, when people don’t help, he has 52 (points). So you have to do something. It was good that we could step up and make a few shots to take the pressure off of him.”
And in doing so, alleviate some of the pressure Al Horford must have been feeling as he played as a visitor for the first time at Philips Arena.
“Kelly had a great night,” Horford said. “I'm just very proud of the group. I think they made a bigger deal of it than I did. I was just ready to play and they really wanted to win this game and I just appreciate their effort and everything they did.”