Celtics prevail over Wizards in NBA’s consolation bracket
The reward for surviving a tough seven-game series? Facing a well-rested LeBron
BOSTON — Let’s put our hands together and give it up for Isaiah Thomas and the Boston Celtics. They just won the Eastern Conference Consolation Bracket.
“Man, can you believe LeBron has been resting for 10 days?” Thomas was asked in a hallway of TD Garden late Monday night.
“I know,” the diminutive and oh-so-good Celtics guard said, shaking his head. “Ten days. That’s just crazy.”
Poor IT. Poor Celtics. Poor Boston.
Pity the victors.
For prevailing over the Washington Wizards, 115-105, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals — a will-over-skill scrum of a series that hearkened back to the days when NBA players actually disliked their opponents — the Celtics just won … an all-expenses-paid trip to Cleveland, where they will be devoured by The King, perhaps in five games or fewer!
It’s as if they won a bloodbath of a mixed-martial-arts fight against Conor McGregor — and found out in less than 72 hours they had to face Thor.
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and crew have been getting deep-tissue massages for a week and a half. They’re refueling, recovering, resting their cartilage and bones for the stretch run of these grueling NBA playoffs in which the Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors have yet to lose a single game.
This is more than some passing, irritating thought after a tremendously competitive series between the Celtics and Wizards, a series that single-handedly saved the NBA from second-round embarrassment. (It’s hard to count San Antonio Spurs-Houston Rockets after James Harden and Houston went AWOL in Game 6.)
And what a Game 7 it was, no?
In the crucible Monday night, the man of the hour would almost certainly be Thomas or John Wall, right? Bradley Beal, possibly. Maybe even Al Horford, who banked in that knuckleball in Game 6 with 7.7 seconds left, a shot that nearly won the series — before Wall canned The Shot That Saved The Season.
After such a thrilling setup, the Game 7 hero had to be someone with a reputation for taking and making those kinds of shots. Someone comfortable performing extraordinary feats with the season in the balance. Someone like …
“Aw, K-Dawg!” said Jaylen Brown.
K-Dawg, you are told, is a nickname for Kelly Olynyk, the maligned 7-foot reserve for the Boston Celtics, who often has that newborn-deer-in-the-headlights look — if a deer were to weigh 240-plus pounds, grow its hair past its shoulders and turn Waka Flocka up to 12 in his headphones.
“He does what he does, man,” Brown said above the cacophony of a jubilant Celtics locker room Monday night. “They’ve been kicking him early in the year, saying this and saying that. Now everybody loves him.”
Everybody loves Olynyk except for the Wizards, whose skin he crawled under earlier in the series and whose season he ended by outscoring the Wizards’ bench by himself, 26-5, in Game 7.
Olynyk made the self-proclaimed Polish Machine, D.C.’s Marcin Gortat (rhymes with robot), malfunction badly. Like we said, Olynyk is no gazelle. However, his nimbleness made Gortat appear to have the lateral movement of Bill Russell — at 83.
As expected, Thomas was special, scoring 29, ending with a 12-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio, hitting important hanging jumper after important hanging jumper from the end of the third to the middle of the fourth quarter, when the Celtics went on an 18-2 run to take control of a game the Wizards led by two at halftime.
Beal played brilliantly, scoring a playoff-high 38 points. He hit five 3-pointers and nine of 10 free throws and complemented Wall’s 18-point, 11-assist night.
But there was no bench to speak of for Washington. And at the end, Wall and Beal, having combined to play 90 of a possible 96 minutes, had little lift in their jump shots and less oomph left to go to the hole.
And yet, they no longer have to worry about being eviscerated by the James Gang.
It’s tough to feel bad for the Celtics, who could get the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft lottery Tuesday night. They have a 25 percent chance of winning and a 64 percent chance of being in the top three.
Oh, and 24 Boston teams have made their league’s final four since Washington last had one team go to the conference finals in 1998 (the Capitals). You talk about a spoiled sports town? These people have had 10 championship parades in all four major-revenue sports since the new millennium began.
The Wizards/Bullets franchise, meanwhile, had not played in a Game 7 since 1979.
History didn’t win, though, as much as heart and Boston’s star getting genuine help. Danny Ainge, the president of basketball operations in Boston, has done a remarkable job building a conference finals team four years after trading away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and starting over.
But even a great draft pick and some savvy trading doesn’t get Boston to the championship series, just as Houston, San Antonio and Washington aren’t one or two players away. Unless that player is LeBron James. Or Stephen Curry.
And since those players have given no inclination of changing teams anytime soon, this is regrettably a two-team league until otherwise noted. And all these theatrical series before the Cavs and Warriors meet up are all bragging rights for … conference runner-up.
Why pity the victors in Game 7? Because this is as far as they go. The payoff for coming up big in the last game of a series is James dunking on their mugs.
Good luck, Boston. And good night.