The Boston Celtics closed the book on the 2016-17 season Thursday night as their seven-month journey from Opening Night to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals came to an end. Now an exciting offseason is in store for the C’s, but before looking ahead to the summer, let’s flip back the pages and scan through some of the campaign’s finest chapters.
From the birth of a king, to the epic farewell of a legend, to a plethora of phenomenal performances that paved the way for Boston’s rise to the top of the East standings, here are the top five moments from the 2016-17 Celtics season.
5. December 30, 2016 vs. Miami – A King is Born
Most NBA teams refer to the fourth quarter as “crunch time.” In Boston, the final 12 minutes of a game has become known as “Isaiah Time.”
Isaiah Thomas has carried the Celtics to countless victories over the last few seasons thanks to his clutch scoring during the fourth quarter. He took his timely offense to whole other level on December 30 during a career performance against the Miami Heat.
The All-Star point guard dropped 29 of his 52 points during the fourth quarter, while leading the Celtics to a nail-biting, 117-114 win over the Heat. He finished two points shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s 31-point fourth-quarter record and smashed the Celtics’ single-quarter scoring mark of 24 points that was previously shared by Larry Bird and Todd Day.
Remarkably, Thomas’ late-game heroics occurred on the second-night of a back-to-back. The Celtics arrived at roughly 3 a.m. that morning in Boston after playing the Cavaliers in Cleveland the night before. That didn’t stop IT from fighting through the fatigue and producing his first career 50-point effort.
4. March 8, 2017 at Golden State – Another Miracle at Oracle
The Golden State Warriors have lost just seven home games over the last two regular seasons. Two of those defeats have come at the hands of the Celtics.
Boston famously halted Golden State’s 54-game home win streak on April 1, 2016 with a 109-106 victory at Oracle Arena. The C’s returned nearly one year later on March 8, 2017, and delivered another historic win.
Boston and Golden State traded punches throughout the first three quarters of the contest, before Boston broke the game open during the final frame in stunning fashion. The C’s outscored the Dubs 27-12 during the fourth quarter, en route to a 99-86 win. It marked Golden State’s lowest point total at home in nearly three years.
The most shocking aspect was the fact that reigning MVP Stephen Curry and backcourt mate Klay Thompson did not make a single field goal during the fourth quarter. The Splash Brothers combined for one point over the last 12 minutes of play.
The Celtics, meanwhile, were driven by strong performances from Isaiah Thomas (25 points) and Kelly Olynyk (17 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals), as they became the first visiting team over the last two regular seasons to win twice on the Warriors’ home court.
3. May 15, 2017 vs. Washington – Olynyk’s Legendary Game 7
The Celtics have had many heroic Game 7 efforts during their storied history. Their second-round, series-deciding contest on May 15 against the Washington Wizards proved to be no exception.
With Boston’s season on the line, Kelly Olynyk stepped off the bench and delivered the performance of his lifetime. The fourth-year big man logged a career-playoff high 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting to go along with four rebounds, four assists and just one turnover, as the Celtics squeezed past the Wizards with a 115-105 series-clinching win.
Olynyk scored 14 points during the fourth quarter alone and exited the game to a deafening, standing ovation. Just like that, he had cemented his name among Celtics legends as he propelled his team into the Eastern Conference Finals to face off against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
2. February 5, 2017 vs. LA Clippers – Nothing But the Truth
On a typical night at TD Garden, fans will pack the seats to cheer on their beloved Celtics and jeer the opposition. On February 5, those fans wanted nothing but The Truth.
Paul Pierce was in town with the LA Clippers for his final game in Boston. It gave Celtics Nation one last chance to say goodbye to their former captain who bled green for 15 seasons and led the C’s to an NBA title in 2008.
Pierce, who hadn’t played since New Years Eve, started the game and played the first five minutes before being subbed out. Many thought that would be his last time on the parquet floor, but The Truth had one more surprise left up his sleeve.
The fans at TD Garden consistently chanted his name throughout the game, and finally, with 19 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, their call was answered.
Former C’s coach Doc Rivers subbed Pierce back into the game to a roaring ovation, and what followed will go down as one of the most iconic moments in Celtics history.
The Clippers were down 107-99 and had one final possession left. Every fan rose to his or her feet knowing where the ball would go. Pierce received the rock at the top of the arc, rose up without hesitation and drilled a 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining.
It was The Truth’s way of saying his final goodbye, and Celtics fans wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
1. May 2, 2017 vs. Washington– IT Fights Tooth & Nail for Game 2 Win
Isaiah Thomas had his left front tooth knocked out and fracture two others during Game 1 of Boston’s Eastern Conference semifinal series with Washington. Roughly 11 hours of dental procedures ensued, but that didn’t stop IT from suiting up and delivering a career-high 53-point effort in Game 2.
According to C’s coach Brad Stevens, Thomas was “not feeling good at all” heading into the May 2 contest, but the point guard discovered an emotional boost that pushed him through any physical pain he was enduring. Thomas’ will to play came from his sister Chyna, who was tragically killed two and a half weeks earlier in a car accident in their home state of Washington. Game 2 happened to fall on what would have been her 23rd birthday, and he wanted to honor her by putting forth the best effort of his life.
Thomas shot 18-of-33 from the field, 5-of-12 from 3-point range and 12-of-13 from the free throw line to lead Boston to a 129-119 overtime win. Per usual, the All-Star took over late in the game, delivering 29 points during the fourth quarter and OT.
IT finished just one point shy of John Havlicek’s team playoff-record 54 points, though he admitted that records were the last thing on his mind as he fought tooth and nail to drive his team to a win and a 2-0 series lead.
In the effort, Thomas proved that no obstacle was too challenging for him to conquer. He wore his heart on his sleeve and delivered the most impactful moment of an incredible Celtics season.