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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

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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.

How Sixers plan to replace JJ Redick

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How Sixers plan to replace JJ Redick

CAMDEN, N.J. — After Sixers’ practice Wednesday, a reporter asked coach Brett Brown, “Are you concerned about the shooting without [JJ Redick] in there?”

Brown responded, “What do you think?”

Clearly, JJ Redick’s left knee injury is a blow for the Sixers (see story). With Redick sidelined, a combination of Jerryd Bayless, Justin Anderson, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot and possibly the recently acquired James Young will have to fill a huge shooting void. Brown said Bayless will start in Redick’s place.

Brown noted the Sixers' offense won’t change radically, but that the other guards will need to focus on off-ball movement without Redick in the lineup.

“JJ is amongst the league’s elite movers,” Brown said. “We need to move Jerryd more. [Robert Covington] is a little bit ground-bound at times. You’ve all sort of seen our structure enough to know almost what we’re hoping to do. And it’s movement. We don’t have to change anything, we just have to do what we do.

"Historically, [Bayless’] role has been stuck in a corner and spotting up, or loop him up to the top and put him in a rub. We’re trying to do more than that, and I think he can shine in that environment.”

Outside of his shooting, the threat of Redick’s jumper draws defenders away from the lane. His absence may make getting to the basket harder work for Ben Simmons.

“I think everybody just has to step up and fill that role,” Simmons said. “We need scoring. He helps us get a lot of shots by being a great shooter, so we need to work on getting our own shots.”

Redick has made more three-point shots (98) than Bayless, Anderson, and Luwawu-Cabarrot combined (95) this season in 34 fewer attempts. Bayless has shot better as a starter (40.4 percent from three-point range) than when he comes off the bench (35.3 percent).

According to Brown, Bayless’ most productive recent game, on Dec. 30 at Denver, may be a blueprint the team uses moving forward. Bayless scored 14 points on 6 of 10 shooting (2 of 3 from three-point territory) in a 107-102 Sixers’ win. Brown said he made a concerted effort to call plays for Bayless, and that the veteran guard responded by making big shots.

It also seems likely that, without Redick’s 17.3 points per game in the lineup, the Sixers will have to lean more heavily on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for scoring. But while those two are always front and center, Redick’s injury means Bayless will shift into the spotlight.

Markelle Fultz still 'hesitant' with his shot

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Markelle Fultz still 'hesitant' with his shot

CAMDEN, N.J. — Markelle Fultz was clutch today. No, not in a game situation. But he delivered when Sixers coach Brett Brown ratcheted up the pressure on him.

“Today, six times I put him to the free throw line and say, ‘Hey, Markelle, if you make it, you keep it. If not, it’s the other team’s ball. It’s 92-91.’ And he goes 5 for 6, and he looked good doing it,” Brown said.

Brown explained after practice Wednesday he’s trying to put as much pressure on Fultz’s shot as possible in a practice setting. He said that while he likes what he’s seen from Fultz recently in practice, he doesn’t feel the rookie’s shot is ready for NBA action yet.

“He looks good,” Brown said. “You can see why he was the first player chosen. Stuff he does with the ball, his ability to get into the lane and find people. The hesitancy at times we see with his shot is true, it’s real. He can still impact an NBA game without having to shoot, he really can impact an NBA game without having to shoot.

“And so that doesn’t make him whole, though. It doesn’t make him whole. So finding what that next step is where he can go into an NBA game and feel more whole than he currently does, is the next timeline of, ‘OK, well when does he go play?'”

How “whole” Fultz needs to be to return to action appears to be subjective. One encouraging sign is Fultz’s free throw form, which appears hitch-free. Fultz shot 6 of 12 from the foul line in his four regular season games prior to being shut down, with a bizarre tilt of the head to the left and a long pause right before releasing the ball. Those issues weren’t visible when Fultz shot free throws after practice.

 

However, the Sixers don’t want Fultz back if he’s still hesitant to shoot jumpers, as Brown acknowledged. The Sixers are taking their time with the rookie — Brown confirmed they’re not going to rush his return because of JJ Redick’s left knee injury (see story). Instead, Brown will continue to have Fultz run the point for the second team at practice, and continue to try to coax Fultz into regaining full confidence in his shot.

In other injury news, Richaun Holmes will miss a second straight game Thursday night against Boston with gastroenteritis.