ORLANDO — One certainty during his rookie season with the Celtics is Kelly Olynyk is going to play. He is going to get his 20-plus minutes per game as one of the franchise’s potential cornerstones.
On Friday night at Amway Center, Olynyk’s most critical minutes were down the stretch, the 8:15 he played in the fourth quarter of the Celtics’ rather exciting 91-89 victory over the Orlando Magic. The Celtics have more experienced big men, and more rugged ones, but none with the skill set Olynyk possesses.
He has a sweet perimeter jumper, but that jumper has been about as scarce as a sunny day in a Saskatchewan winter. He has had his share of good looks, his share of open shots from 15-17 feet, and the resulting sound was usually a clank.
Olynyk, despite his foul trouble and turnovers, was in Friday’s game in the final minutes and received a pass from a driving Jordan Crawford. It was one of those moments where the motion slowed, the crowd quieted, and Olynyk seemingly had five minutes to gather himself for the release.
The ball swished through the net, a 12-footer that gave the Celtics an 88-84 lead with 1:19 left. Orlando would reduce the deficit to 1 on two more occasions but Boston had enough to win, and Olynyk had a sizable role.
He finished with 8 points and six rebounds, and most of his night was spent tussling with veteran Jason Maxiell in the paint, learning the idiosyncrasies of post position and boxing out on rebounds. He picked up touch fouls and hard fouls. Friday was perhaps his most thorough lesson in six games as a rookie.
He missed nine shots, had three turnovers, and committed five fouls, yet he made the play that counted.
“It was a tough night in some ways shooting the ball,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But he could drive it by his guy; he got his hands on some balls on the defensive glass. We needed more size. Next to Jordan’s dive [for a loose ball], the play of the day was he and [Brandon] Bass being strong with the ball when they were being trapped late in that game.”
The Magic trapped at every opportunity to create a turnover in the waning moments, and Olynyk withstood the defensive barrage and was able to get the ball to Crawford. In that scrum, Olynyk was being slapped, hugged and harassed, and he managed to keep his poise.
“It’s such a physical game, especially to that point,” he said. “There’s hands all over you, in the passing lanes, so you’ve got to be strong with it, be tough with it and make sure you kept the possession and got the ball safely to an open man. You’ve just got to be tough. It’s a man’s game out there.”
And just minutes after helping the Celtics to their second consecutive triumph, Olynyk headed out of the shower and heard the loud voice of a teammate still washing up. The veteran needed a towel and it was the rookie’s responsibility to make sure he was layered with them as he exited the shower.
There were no pats on the back, fist bumps, or handshakes. Olynyk was back to his rookie status, which included taking Rajon Rondo’s personal bag to the team bus. Olynyk’s rookie experience has been action-packed so far. He has played at least 22 minutes in each of the last four games.
Like his Orlando counterpart Victor Oladipo, Olynyk will receive a healthy chunk of minutes on a rebuilding team. His primary goal is development, becoming a productive power forward who can stretch the floor with his jumper.
“Just riding the wave right now, just trying to be the best Boston Celtic I can be,” he said. “Whatever that is and whatever I can do to help this team win, hopefully we’ll be able to slide into some roles and some positions and string together a few wins.
“[The NBA game is] different, it’s way different. Sometimes you think you could do anything out there, tackle guys like it’s football and other times you’ll get soft [fouls], so I am trying to figure that stuff out, where you can play physical, where you can play off.”
Inasmuch as Olynyk is attempting to take NBA life in stride, as many towels he has to collect or drinks he has to deliver for teammates, this is far from tedious. He said running errands for the veterans “gives me something to do” and the thrill of hitting a big shot to win an NBA game is not lost on the Canadian. It’s cherished.
“It’s fun. It’s what you live for, what you dream about as a little kid,” he said. “To be in it, it’s something else, but it’s what you want, what you live for and what you’re working for so you’ve got to make the most of it.”