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Alex Speier

Kelly Olynyk became unlikeliest Game 7 hero ever for Celtics

Kelly Olynyk drives against Markieff Morris in the first quarter of Game 7.
Kelly Olynyk, who is known just as much for his awkward plays as he is his brilliant ones, poured in 14 fourth-quarter points, thwarting Washington’s late rally and leading the Celtics to a 115-105 victory.

The Celtics have played 30 Game 7s in their storied history, a volume that made it hard to imagine something occurring that would represent a first-of-its-kind performance. And then, Olynyk happened.

Kelly Olynyk became the unlikeliest Game 7 hero in Celtics history, and one of the most unlikely in NBA history, with his 26-point explosion in a 115-105 victory over the Wizards. That he did so in just 28 minutes off the bench, thus delivering the 23rd Game 7 performance with 25-plus points in franchise history, is little short of mind-blowing.

Start with this: Those 23 Game 7s with 25 or more points were accumulated by 12 Celtics players. Of the nine who are eligible for the NBA Hall of Fame (a group that excludes Paul Pierce, who seems like a lock, Isaiah Thomas, and Olynyk), all have a place in Springfield. Pierce and Thomas, of course, are multi-time All-Stars. Olynyk is the ultimate outlier from the group in terms of stature.

That said, the Celtics do have a storied history of bench contributors. That comes as little surprise given Red Auerbach’s role in inventing the sixth man concept. Yet Auerbach cultivated pure, explosive scorers off the bench – players who, though not in the starting lineup, were expected to rank among the team’s leading scorers.

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Players like Frank Ramsey and John Havlicek and eventually Kevin McHale were bench players in name only. They were expected to stay on the court for nearly every minute of playoff games, and the offense featured them. Their standout Game 7 scoring performances – a pair of 26-point efforts for Havlicek, a 28-pointer for Ramsey – were impressive, but far from shocking. (McHale’s top Game 7 scoring efforts came as a starter.)

Olynyk’s 28 minutes to produce that output were the fewest for any of the Celtics’ prior Game 7 standouts. Prior to Olynyk, no Boston player had produced that many points in a Game 7 in fewer than 33 minutes (Ramsey in 1959).

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Olynyk was and is different from the most noteworthy contributors in Celtics Game 7 lore. He averaged just 9.0 points per game in the regular season – the lowest scoring average ever by a Celtics player who scored 25 or more points in a Game 7.

His offensive outburst in a Game 7 was perhaps the most unlikely by anyone in the NBA since Steve Smith, then 35 and following a mere 5.0 points per game, poured in 25 points for the Hornets against the Heat in 2004 – but Smith’s New Orleans team lost. Olynyk became just the third bench player in the NBA to score 25 points in a Game 7 win since 1983-84. Of those, he had the lowest regular-season scoring average.

The Celtics have a long tradition of memorable Game 7 performances. Yet until Monday, they had never seen an anomaly like Olynyk’s effort, a performance that not only extended their season but that will represent a reference point and curiosity for years to come.

Top Celtics Game 7 performances
Player Age Date Opponent W/L Minutes Points Reg season PPG HOF All-Star
Sam Jones 29 4/10/63 CIN W 41 47 19.4 Y 5
Paul Pierce 30 5/18/08 CLE W 44 41 19.6 N/A 10
Larry Bird 27 5/13/84 NYK W 42 39 24.2 Y 12
Larry Bird 30 5/30/87 DET W 48 37 28.1 Y 12
Sam Jones 31 4/15/65 PHI W 48 37 25.9 Y 5
Tommy Heinsohn 22 4/13/57 STL W 45 37 16.2 Y 6
Larry Bird 31 5/22/88 ATL W 47 34 29.9 Y 12
Kevin McHale 30 5/22/88 ATL W 43 33 22.6 Y 7
Larry Bird 30 5/17/87 MIL W 48 31 28.1 Y 12
Tommy Heinsohn 28 4/10/63 CIN W 35 31 18.9 Y 6
Bill Russell 28 4/18/62 LAL W 53 30 18.9 Y 12
Isaiah Thomas 28 5/15/17 WAS W 40 29 28.9 N/A 2
Dave Cowens 25 5/12/74 MIL W 47 28 19.0 Y 8
Sam Jones 28 4/5/62 PHI W 43 28 18.4 Y 5
Frank Ramsey 27 4/1/59 SYR W 33 28 15.4 Y 0
Sam Jones 28 4/18/62 LAL W 47 27 18.4 Y 5
Kelly Olynyk 26 5/15/17 WAS W 28 26 9.0 N/A 0
Kevin McHale 29 5/17/87 MIL W 40 26 26.1 Y 7
John Havlicek 29 5/5/69 LAL W 48 26 21.6 Y 13
John Havlicek 25 4/15/65 PHI W 42 26 18.3 Y 13
Bill Russell 32 4/28/66 LAL W 48 25 12.9 Y 12
Tommy Heinsohn 27 4/5/62 PHI W 39 25 22.1 Y 6
Bob Cousy 30 4/1/59 SYR W 46 25 20.0 Y 13
SOURCE: Basketball-Reference.com

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.