Bring on LeBron.
Isaiah Thomas (29 points) is the Baby-Faced Assassin, Kelly Olynyk (26) is Dirk Nowitzki, the Celtics have advanced to the Eastern Conference finals and suddenly, in the immortal words of Kevin Garnett . . . anything’s possible.
Maybe the ping-pong balls, for once, will fall Boston’s way Tuesday and the Celts will have the No. 1 selection in the draft for the first time since their top pick yielded Robert Parish and Kevin McHale in the infamous Red Auerbach swap with the Warriors in 1980.
Maybe the Celts can put up a fight against King James and the World Champion Cavs in a best-of-seven that starts Wednesday on Causeway Street. Maybe the Sons of Brad Stevens can make it all the way to the NBA Finals and win banner 18 several years ahead of schedule.
OK, that’s a stretch. Nobody believes these Celtics can take it that far this year. But indulge your Green Team friends and neighbors for these next 48 hours because the Celtics defeated the Wizards, 115-105 in Game 7 of the conference semifinals Monday night, rocking the train station downstairs and rekindling memories of the golden days when Garnett, Dave Cowens, and Bill Russell roamed the parquet floor.
“Hats off to our guys,’’ said Stevens, who is 1-0 in Game 7s. “. . . It’s good to be able to validate the progress by winning a couple of rounds. But the bottom line is there’s always tomorrow.’’
The turning point in the series finale came at the end of the third, and beginning of the fourth quarter. Down 79-76, the Celtics won the game with an 18-2 run that was highlighted by a hail of 3-pointers by the inimitable Thomas. IT hadn’t been doing much from international waters until this moment, but he buried the Wiz with three treys and a dazzling assist in the putaway stretch. With 10 minutes left in the game, the Celtics led, 94-81. It felt like the game, and the series, was over.
When Washington threatened one last time (Bradley Beal, 38 points) the Wiz were flushed by Olynyk’s long-range set shots and drives to the hoop. The Man-Bun-Man (10 of 14 from the floor, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) had the game of his life and should be rewarded with his own bobblehead after this one.
“It was unbelievable,’’ said Olynyk. “Especially to do it in front of our fans, to feel that energy and enthusiasm and passion that 20,000 people had. It was special to be a part of it and hopefully we can re-live that.’’
With the Bruins done for the spring and the Red Sox staggering out of town, it’s a good time for the Celtics to be playing deep into the playoffs. The hard-fought second-round win over Washington buys at least four more games and maybe a couple more weeks of high-octane basketball. The Celts will be going Nike-to-Nike with LeBron and the whole basketball world will be watching. The 2016-17 Celtics season is hereby deemed a success. Anything good that happens now is just gravy.
Monday marked the 11th meeting between the Celtics and Wizards this season and let the record show that the home team won every time. The fiery May fortnight featuring the Green and the Wiz was not settled until Kelly-time (did I just write that?) in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics put quite a bit of pressure on themselves before Game 7. They had a chance to close things out in Washington last Friday but coughed up a 5-point lead (with the ball!) in the final 1:25 at the Verizon Center. The loss was compounded by the abject stupidity of the Celtics wearing black clothing to the gym because it was supposed to be a funeral for the Wizards. When the stunt backfired, it became imperative for the Celtics to come home and win. A Game 7 loss would have triggered an offseason of questions about the maturity and readiness of the team that played better than anyone else in the conference during the regular season.
It’s all forgotten now. And the Celtics get to play the disrespect card for the rest of the spring.
“They don’t ever give us a chance and we just keep going,’’ said Thomas. “All last night I watched the Game 7 between Paul Pierce and LeBron. I know this wasn’t going to be easy. It’s a special moment for us.’’
This was the 30th Game 7 in franchise history and the Garden was appropriately loud and friendly to the home team.
Shooting in Game 7 is always harder than shooting in Game 1 and much more difficult than shooting during regular-season games. Hands get sweaty and arms get short and the pressure compounds as the misses multiply. This was evident for the visitors as they clanged shot after shot and watched the Celtics run to a 10-2 lead in the opening minutes. Scott Brooks called time and in that moment Celtic honks relaxed in the belief that Mr. John Wall had lost his will and would not have his way in the series finale.
The Wizards stepped forward, however, and ran off 10 straight points to take a brief lead. That’s when the Celtics bench got into the act with contributions from Jaylen Brown and Olynyk (12 in the first half). This was a far cry from Game 6, when the Celtic bench scored only 5 points.
The Celts led, 27-23, after one, but Washington forwards Markieff Morris and Otto Porter pushed back and the Wizards led, 55-53 at intermission. Boston had zero offensive rebounds and zero fast-break points in the first 24 minutes.
A flurry of treys by Thomas and Marcus Smart at the end of the third quarter gave the Green an 85-79 lead after three. Perhaps that’s when LeBron started packing for Boston.
“We want Cleveland!’’ Celtic fans chanted in the closing seconds.
LeBron and the Cavs will be here Wednesday night.
And Kelly Olynyk will be waiting.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org