By Mark Paulette
The discipline of sport has an unparalleled ability to challenge what is possible in the confines of reality. A mystical capacity to bring forth Herculean efforts out of its moral participants. Such timeless performances are sprinkled throughout the history of competition from Michael Jordan’s ‘Flu Game’ in the ’97 NBA Finals, to Curt Schilling’s ‘Bloody Sock’ in the ’04 ALCS, to Willis Reeds’ valiant game seven in 1970. Boston, Massachusetts’ TD Garden was the site of a comparable performance Monday night in game seven of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals. No, this epic’s protagonist didn’t have a crippling impairment, but he is Canadian and he does possess a man-bun and the debilitating fact that he was Kelly Olynyk.
Prior to the highly anticipated game seven match-up between the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, Isaiah Thomas prophesized that “game sevens are where legends are made.” Though, it’s unlikely the 5’9” guard was referring to his clumsy 7’0” teammate when he made the statement. Olynyk had combined for 27 points in games three-through-six as the former-13th overall pick had managed just nine points per game during the year; his lowest average since his rookie year.
Yet, with his team staring elimination in the face, it was the Canadian reserve who rose to the occasion and spurred Boston’s biggest win of the Brad Stevens-era. Olynyk finished Monday’s 115-105 win with 26 points in 28 minutes on 10-of-14 shooting, five rebounds and four assists.
More dramatically, for a five-minute span in the fourth quarter, Olynyk, whose “Billy goat scruff” has long been his repulsive signature look, transformed into the G.O.A.T. and outscored Washington singlehandedly. Whether he was raining threes or pirouetting to the basket, Olynyk took command of the game in its most crucial of moments. The raucous Garden crowd showered the Gonzaga grad with chants of “Kelly, Kelly,” before the seven-footer left to an eventual standing ovation. Making the moment even sweeter (if that was possible) was that Olynyk earned the last laugh in the series which his character had been called into question. (Olynyk’s prior adversary, Kelly Oubre Jr., had a front row seat to KO’s improbable night. A seat which Oubre Jr. never left, save the game’s final 20 seconds.)
The extraordinary component of Olynyk’s night is that we won’t see it again. At least not for the remainder of this year’s playoff run which will most likely end in the Conference Finals against LeBron and the Cavs. Olynyk had no right taking over game seven in the manner which he did. His recent play gave no indication his finest professional moment would come at the season’s most crucial juncture.
But that’s how sports work. It forges heroes out of players who should be no more than footnotes and can render titans fruitless. (Look no further than John Wall, who finished the game 1-for-11 while KO was etching his name into New England playoff lore.) Halley’s Comet, whose next predicted perihelion is set for July 28, 2061, will likely traverse the night’s sky before Kelly Olynyk carries the Celtics to another game seven victory. However none of that matters, because for five minutes on Monday night, big Kelly tasted immortality and secured his spot in Boston sport’s history.
Mark Paulette is the Senior Producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.