BOSTON — For the Celtics, things could not have been going much worse. They’d missed their first six shots and had been outrebounded by the Wizards, 8-0. The game was not yet four minutes old, but already the Boston faithful at TD Garden was groaning as the Celtics trailed, 16-3. They were on pace to give up 194 points.
That’s when Kelly Olynyk checked in for the Celtics. And boy, did he save their Canadian bacon in this one.
“Kelly came in and was huge for us,” said Al Horford, the man Olynyk replaced. “I feel like he made some big plays and just the way that he played in the first half really helped us when we were hurting to score the ball.”
A look at the box score from Sunday’s 123-111 Celtics win in Game 1 shows good numbers for Olynyk: 12 points in 17 minutes, with four rebounds and two assists. He made both of his 3-point attempts. Not bad, but for a game in which Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, Jae Crowder had 24 points and shot 6 of 8 from the 3-point line and Horford nearly triple-doubled (21 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds), it’s easy to overlook Olynyk’s production.
That would be a mistake. It was Olynyk who changed the tenor of this game, when the Celtics were at their worst. In the early going, their starting big men, Crowder and Al Horford — as well as Amir Johnson, who entered the game just two minutes in — were in danger of being steamrolled by Wizards center Marcin Gortat, who finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
But the man-bunned Victorian turned that around on Washington. He scored 10 first-quarter points, and was a plus-14 in the second quarter. Gortat figures to be an advantage throughout this series. Olynyk, though, provided a reminder of what the Celtics can do when going against more traditional, paint-bound big men like Gortat: They can jack 3-pointers, and make them.
Wizards star John Wall could feel the change when Olynyk entered. He was asked about guard Marcus Smart coming into the game in the third quarter but waved that off. “I don’t think it was that quarter,” Wall said. “It was in the second (quarter), Kelly Olynyk came in and played really well for those guys.”
Olynyk had figured the Celtics were ripe for a game like this. In their six-game slog against Chicago, the Celtics struggled to convert 3-point attempts, making only 33.9 percent. On Sunday, they were 19 of 39 against the Wizards, a franchise record for made 3s in a playoff game.
“We just weren’t making them against Chicago, for whatever reason,” Olynyk said. “The percentage is going to even out because we were due to make a bunch of them. You saw a lot of good ball movement and you saw a lot of them go in.”
Olynyk had some good moments in the series against the Bulls, but as has so often been the case in his four years with the Celtics, those moments were balanced by bungles and foibles, missed defensive assignments and trainwreck drives to the basket. Such is life with Olynyk. This could be a critical playoff run in terms of Olynyk’s future with the Celtics — he is a restricted free agent this summer and has not shown enough progress this season to make him a sure bet to return.
That’s a problem for four months from now, though. On Sunday, there was far more positive than negative, and the plusses came at exactly the right time for the Celtics. They put up huge numbers in Game 1, but that might not have happened had Olynyk not snapped them out of their early funk.