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Leave it to Kelly Olynyk to screw up the Boston Celtics' summer plans.


Don't get me wrong, this is exactly the sort of "problem" Boston wants to have; things could have gone quite differently. Had Kelly not had the game of his career last night, the Celts would be getting on with their rebuild just fine - more than fine, really, with better odds than any other franchise for controlling the top pick in tonight's NBA Draft Lottery after a season exceeding almost anyone's expectations, even with our star player, Isaiah Thomas, fighting through both immense personal tragedy and intense personal pain. Nobody would have batted an eye to falling to a surging Washington Wizards squad under the adept leadership of nascent superstar John Wall and one of the best starting fives in the league.

But Kelly did have the game of his career last night, which complicates things in the BEST way.


For one thing, we all have an indelible image of what Olynyk can do when he attacks the rim burned into our brain. It's not something we'll forget any time soon, nor how he is a terror should you send multiple defenders to cover another player - say, perhaps, Isaiah - while leaving him alone near the perimeter. Devastating, and a wonder to behold. "But!" you say, "Olynyk has had better nights, like his 17 point, 5 rebound and 5 assist showing against the Golden State Warriors this March". And you would be correct in suggesting that the Warriors - yards and miles away the better team - represent a bigger challenge in a vacuum. But keep in mind to them, a loss was forgettable, something they did not bother to muster probably even their "B" game for (not to devalue the win, just to contextualize it). Something they had probably already forgotten about 48 hours later.


Rest assured, the Wizards and their fans will be thinking about this series, this game, the fourth quarter and Kelly Olynyk for a lot longer than that. They saved their season after an abominable 2-8 start, sparking a slow burn from the embers of their frustration that only seemed to erupt into open flame when the Wiz played the Cs at home, clawing their way back up the standings like an inexorable force of nature, only to be gifted with a matchup they'd had as much luck on the road against as Boston had had in their house - without home court advantage, to boot. They fought through multiple injuries in this series, with the failure of past D.C. sports franchises across multiple sports hanging heavy on their shoulders.

This game mattered to them, in ways it can be hard to appreciate as a Boston fan.


So, on the surface, I can understand why some might look at the stat line and say there's been bigger games in Kelly's young career - but there haven't been. He's never faced a hungrier, more desperate club putting more on the line to win - not even close, really. And the game, while technically a double-digit win by the slimmest of accurate descriptions (10 points), flirted with being a two-possession game with under two minutes to play. We saw in Game Six that such leads could evaporate in seconds, and had a few errant shots from Wall or Beal hit, this whole situation could have ended very differently. Take away a couple of those Olynyk buckets, and not just the score but the entire tenor of the game could have been transformed. I cannot possibly emphasize enough how massive, how absolutely crucial Olynyk's aggressive play impacted the outcome of that fourth quarter, the series, and quite possibly his future.


I say this with deep gratitude and reverence for a player I (like many of you) have been critical of for the lack of aggressive play for much of his time with Boston, frustrated he does not use his size and skillset to maximum utility - and have never been happier to eat my words. Never. Not even considering the dilemma I alluded to in the opening line, Olynyk's looming free agency. You see, the rest of the NBA has a short memory (OK, quite a few Celtics fans too, myself occasionally among them), and will definitely be thinking about what they saw last night when it comes to paying the man come summer. To be sure, most if not all offer sheets that get put in front of Kelly will have had their due diligence done, taking into account the long stretches of invisibility Olynyk's game vanished into this season. They will also be (rightfully) tantalized by the promise performances like last night suggest are attainable levels of performance from the big man, and that could spell problems for the Celts' roster-building plans.


But, apart from perhaps seriously entertaining the idea of running most of this team back with new troops in the form of Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic and whatever comes out of the 2017 NBA Draft (or trades) - WHO HAS GOOSEBUMPS?!? OH WAIT, THAT'S JUST ME, SORRY - let's just enjoy the afterglow of victory for just one day - tomorrow brings war, and we will be ready.



For more stories about the Playoffs on CelticsLife, click here. For more by Justin, click here.



Photo via Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Follow Justin at @justinquinnn

Justin Quinn 5/16/2017 10:50:00 AM Edit
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