76ers

NBA Playoffs: Celtics use late surge to push past Wizards in Game 7

NBA Playoffs: Celtics use late surge to push past Wizards in Game 7

BOX SCORE

BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas said he didn't feel any pressure entering the first Game 7 of his career.

His play backed up his confidence and with the help of Kelly Olynyk and the Boston Celtics bench, Thomas earned the biggest win of his career.

Thomas scored 29 points and had 12 assists, Olynyk scored a career-playoff high 26 points and the Celtics used a big fourth quarter to outlast the Washington Wizards 115-105 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday night.

"I knew it would be a big time game tonight. I knew it wouldn't be easy at all," Thomas said. "And we came out on top."

Led by Olynyk the Celtics got a huge lift from their bench, outscoring their Wizards' counterparts 48-5. Boston also connected on 11 3-pointers, including 8 of 13 in the second half.

"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."

Boston advances to the Eastern Conference finals, where it will host the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 on Wednesday. It's the Celtics first appearance in the conference finals since 2012.

"What a special opportunity to get a chance to compete against them," Boston coach Brad Stevens said.

For Thomas it serves as the ultimate validation for a team that many felt was unworthy of the conference's top seed. It also marked the latest big performance by Thomas, in a playoff run that began in the haze of his younger sister's death in a car accident. The 28-year-old All-Star has called the basketball court his sanctuary, and he continues to credit his teammates for giving him the strength to perform at a high level.

"That says a lot about the team we are and we believe in each other," Thomas said. "The game wasn't always what we wanted it to be and it wasn't a perfect game. But we kept going and stayed the course."

Bradley Beal led the Wizards -- which was playing it its first Game 7 since 1979 -- with 38 points, including 24 in the second half.

"I don't care how well I played," Beal said afterward. "I don't care if I played bad. The end result...The only thing that matters is getting a win."

Otto Porter added 20 points. John Wall and Markieff Morris each finished with 18. But Washington also had 15 turnovers, leading to 17 Celtics' points.

Boston trailed 76-72 late in the third quarter before ending the period on a 13-3 spurt . The run grew to 22-5 in the opening minutes of the fourth as the Celtics' lead became 94-81.

But Washington quickly responded, scoring seven straight in just 51 seconds to get back within six.

Washington stayed close as Beal continued to score, including a four-point play . But Olynyk then took over. He scored 11 of 13 points for Boston as the Celtics stretched their advantage to 110-100.

"He just made shots," Marcin Gortat said of Olynyk. "He was the difference today -- a huge difference."

Brooks played Beal and Wall 46 and 45 minutes, respectively, but said it was necessary to try to stay in the game.

"I knew it would come down to the last six minutes of the game," Washington coach Scott Brooks said. "They had that little run at the start of the fourth quarter."

The Celtics had the largest lead of the first half at 10-2, but that gap was quickly erased by Washington as Boston started to accumulate fouls.

Marcus Smart, Amir Johnson and Olynyk all were whistled for three fouls in the opening 24 minutes, though Smart did inject some life into a second unit that outscored their Wizards' counterparts 19-5.

Wall and Beal each were beneficiaries scoring eight and nine points, respectively in the second quarter to help the Wizards take a two-point lead into halftime.

"It's tough. We came out here Game 7 and gave everything we had. Just came up short," Wall said. "Our goal was to get to Eastern Conference finals and we came up one game short. So it's a not a satisfied season to me."

Tip-ins
Wizards: Dropped to 6-4 all-time in Game 7s. ... Still have not reached a conference final since 1979. ... Outrebounded the Celtics 43-31.

Celtics: Improved to 22-8 all-time in Game 7s and 19-4 all-time at home. ...Outscored the Wizards 58-40 in the paint. ... Lost season series to Cleveland 3-1.

Home-court dominance
The Wizards came up short of becoming the first team in this matchup to win on the opponent's home floor in 2016-17. All 11 meetings this season (four in regular-season and seven postseason) were claimed by the home team.

Best of NBA: Pelicans hold off late Lakers rally for 1st win

usa-jrue-holiday.jpg
USA Today Images

Best of NBA: Pelicans hold off late Lakers rally for 1st win

LOS ANGELES -- Anthony Davis scored 27 points, DeMarcus Cousins had 20 and the New Orleans Pelicans withstood a furious rally to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 119-112 on Sunday night for their first victory of the season.

The Pelicans led by 22 points in the second quarter and were still up by double figures heading into the final period, but the Lakers made a charge despite a poor shooting night from rookie Lonzo Ball.

Reserve Jordan Clarkson had 24 points for the Lakers, but Ball shot just 3 for 13 for eight points. He did have 13 assists and eight rebounds.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope started and scored 20 points in his first appearance for the Lakers. Rookie Kyle Kuzma also had 20.

E'Twaun Moore, who went 0 for 5 in his last game, added 19 points for the Pelicans (1-2), while Jrue Holiday and Ian Clark each had 14 (see full recap).

Wiggins' heave banks in, leads Timberwolves past Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Andrew Wiggins' 3-pointer from a few steps inside halfcourt banked in as time expired to give the Minnesota Timberwolves a 115-113 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night.

Oklahoma City's Carmelo Anthony had hit a 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left to give the Thunder the lead before the Timberwolves inbounded to Wiggins, who rushed up the court and got free with help from a crushing pick by Karl-Anthony Towns before pulling up for the winner.

Wiggins scored 27 points and Towns had 27 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota (2-1).

Russell Westbrook scored 15 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter for the Thunder, who were coming off a loss at Utah on Saturday night. Anthony scored 23 points and Paul George scored 14 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Steven Adams had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Thunder (see full recap).

Allen Crabbe scored 20 points, Nets beat Hawks
NEW YORK -- Allen Crabbe scored 20 points, DeMarre Carroll had 17 and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Atlanta Hawks 116-104 on Sunday.

Caris LeVert and D'Angelo Russell each had 16 points to help the Nets improve to 2-1 with their second straight victory.

Marco Belinelli had 19 points for Atlanta. The Hawks have lost two in a row to drop to 1-2.

Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroeder went down with an apparent ankle injury with 3:37 left and had to be helped off the court.

Brooklyn found a way to win once again without Jeremy Lin, who was lost for the season on opening night with a knee injury, holding off the Hawks after leading by 16 points late in the third (see full recap).

Winless Suns fire head coach Earl Watson

usa-earl-watson-suns-fired.jpg
USA Today Images

Winless Suns fire head coach Earl Watson

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have fired coach Earl Watson just three games in to the NBA season.

The Suns announced the firing Sunday night after hours of meetings at the team's headquarters.

Assistant coach Jay Triano, a former head coach of the Toronto Raptors, was named interim coach. Triano was an assistant at Portland before coming to Phoenix last year.

Watson was promoted from assistant to interim coach of the Suns after Jeff Hornacek was fired Feb. 1, 2016. The interim tag was removed on April 19 of that year. With an extremely young team, the Suns struggled under Watson. He compiled a 33-85 record. Watson's only full season was 2016-17, when the team went 24-58.

The 38-year-old Watson played collegiately at UCLA and in the NBA for 10 seasons. He often spoke of his long talks with John Wooden, emphasized togetherness and a family atmosphere to nurture the young squad but wins were hard to come by.

And owner Robert Sarver apparently didn't like what he saw. Phoenix is 0-3 and two of the losses were especially ugly. The Suns were blown out 124-76 by the Portland in their season opener Wednesday night, the most one-sided loss in franchise history and the most one-sided season opener for any NBA team.

Phoenix was routed by the Clippers in Los Angeles 130-88 on Saturday night.

"I Dont wanna be here," point guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted Sunday, just as the news of Watson's firing surfaced in an ESPN report. The tweet by Bledsoe, a former Clipper, was followed by one from the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan saying "Come back home bro."

Bledsoe has been rumored in possible trades for months.

Watson's dismissal is the first NBA coaching change in well over a year. Hornacek's hiring by the New York Knicks, which was finalized in June 2016, had been the most recent change -- and the irony there is that Watson got the job in Phoenix with 33 games left in the 2015-16 season, after the Suns fired Hornacek.

Watson was the league's second-youngest active coach behind the Lakers' Luke Walton, and the Suns were tied with the Chicago Bulls as having the youngest opening-night roster in the NBA this season.

"I'd like to see the fight be a little bit more," Watson said after the blowout loss to the Clippers. "Or a lot more, until you know they're just fatigued."

The Suns came into this season with only four losses by 40 or more points in franchise history. They've had two in the first three games of this season. Phoenix has not made the playoffs in seven years, the longest drought in the franchise's 49-year history.

Watson was the 17th Suns coach in the franchise's history.

This was the first NBA season where every coach who started one year had the same job to begin the next.