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


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."

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.

Who needs Kawhi? Aldridge drops 45 in Spurs' OT win

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Who needs Kawhi? Aldridge drops 45 in Spurs' OT win

SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge had a career-high 45 points, helping San Antonio overcome Donovan Mitchell's 35-point performance for Utah in the Spurs' 124-120 overtime victory over the Jazz on Friday night.

The Spurs won their sixth straight and beat the Jazz for the first time in four meetings this season.

Utah's 12-game road winning streak came to an end, but only after Mitchell had 14 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers in the final two minutes to force overtime.

San Antonio remained sixth in the Western Conference with the same record as fifth-place New Orleans, a half-game behind Oklahoma City for fourth. Utah remained eighth in the West.

After free throws by Spurs guards Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills and a dunk by Jazz center Rudy Gobert put San Antonio up 114-111, Mitchell drained his third 3-pointer of the fourth with 3.6 seconds remaining to force overtime.

Mills, who finished with 23 points, had six points in overtime as the Spurs capped an undefeated six-game homestand.

Pacers use late run to edge Clippers
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bojan Bogdanovic scored 28 points and the Indiana Pacers used a late 9-0 run to hold on for a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, putting them on the precipice of clinching a playoff spot.

The Pacers won for only the second time in five games but can clinch a playoff berth with one more win or a Detroit loss.

Los Angeles' fading playoff aspirations were dealt another blow. The Clippers are now three games behind Utah for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Utah was playing later Friday.

Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games (see full recap).

Jokic, Murray lift Nuggets over Wizards
WASHINGTON -- Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray each scored 25 points to keep the Denver Nuggets' playoff hopes alive by beating the Washington Wizards 108-100 on Friday night.

The one-two punch of Jokic and Murray plus outside shooting from Will Barton allowed the Nuggets to withstand a third-quarter charge from the Wizards and maintain their sights on one of the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. Denver went into the night two games back of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz and shot 50 percent from 3-point territory to stay very much in the race with nine games remaining.

Bradley Beal led Washington with 24 points as it failed to gain ground in a competitive East where five teams are separated in the standings by four games (see full recap).

Brett Brown's top competition for Coach of the Year

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Brett Brown's top competition for Coach of the Year

The Coach of the Year award in every sport typically comes down to: 

1. Which team overachieved the most?

2. Which team increased its win total the most?

3. Which team that fits both descriptions has a media-friendly coach?

Brett Brown is a deserving candidate this season. Not saying he'll win, or even that he stands out as the most deserving, but he's more than just "in the conversation."

Before getting to the other candidates and their likelihood of winning, let's acknowledge why Brown deserves serious consideration. 

We all knew the Sixers would be better this season. A second year of Joel Embiid and the first of Embiid and Ben Simmons. Finally, a good veteran shooter in JJ Redick.

But did you expect the Sixers to up their win total by 20 games? Currently, that's what they're on pace to do.

Did you expect them to pick up wins over the Rockets, Spurs, Celtics, Raptors, Cavs and Spurs again? Yeah, the Sixers have laid some eggs this season, but they have just as many high-quality wins.

Factor in the continued development of players like Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell and it should be clear that Brown has gotten a whole lot out of this team.

Now, on to the other candidates. The way I see it, there are six in addition to Brown: 

• Dwane Casey (Raptors)
• Nate McMillan (Pacers)
• Brad Stevens (Celtics)
• Mike D'Antoni (Rockets)
• Quin Snyder (Jazz)
• Doc Rivers (Clippers)

Just being realistic here, I think Casey wins it. The Raptors will be the 1-seed in the East and may even end up with the NBA's second-best record given the Warriors' injury report.

It goes beyond that, though. Toronto revamped its system to place less stress on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The result has been the emergence of the NBA's best bench. DeRozan is also now shooting threes, a big benefit to the Raps' spacing.

Lastly, Casey is a media darling. He's done the podcast circuit this season, and his long tenure as a personable NBA assistant will help him with voters.

Nate McMillan
McMillan's Pacers have overachieved, but that has so much more to do with Victor Oladipo than anything else. That's not meant to discredit McMillan, but the gap between expectations and reality for Oladipo is the reason the Pacers have surprised. Unless the Pacers finish several games ahead of the Sixers, I can't see McMillan finishing ahead of Brown.

Brad Stevens
The Celtics have faded of late, mostly because of mounting injuries to their backcourt. Stevens deserves a ton of credit for keeping this team 25-plus games over .500 with so many young pieces, but he won't finish ahead of Casey.

Doc Rivers
Rivers' case is dependent on whether or not the Clippers make the playoffs. The Clips, based on talent alone, have no business being 38-33 in a loaded West. They just play extremely hard and have been maybe the hungriest NBA team this season — so many contributions from guys on two-way contracts.

But LA is now 2½ games out of the 8-seed, so we can almost close the book on Rivers for COY.

Mike D'Antoni
The Rockets have been the best team this season and D'Antoni is a huge reason why. The Chris Paul addition is a bigger reason why, but the Rockets are where they are because of how Paul has been integrated into D'Antoni's system, and because Houston is finally focused on defense. D'Antoni should finish in the top three of the Coach of the Year voting, but it's hard to win when you add a veteran superstar in the offseason.

Predicted order of finish: Casey, Brown, Snyder, D'Antoni, Stevens, McMillan, Rivers