by Rob Joyce
Game 7 between the Celtics and Wizards came down to the final few minutes, as expected. But it wasn’t Isaiah Thomas, John Wall, Al Horford or any other big name that did the most to decide the outcome. No, Boston advanced back to the Eastern Conference Finals thanks largely to the efforts of Kelly Olynyk. The fourth-year center – he of 9.0 points per game this year – exploded off the bench on Monday, going for 26 points in leading the C’s to a 115-105 victory.
Team sports are weird, especially the postseason. When the lights shine brightest, in a do-or-die Game 7, the unlikeliest of heroes can emerge and become the ultimate difference makers, just like Olynyk. Here are a few other role players who stepped it up when needed most:
On a roster that featured the likes of Jason Giambi (41 home runs), Alfonso Soriano (38), and Jorge Posada (30) – not to mention Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams – it was Aaron Boone that continued the Yankees’ torment of the Red Sox in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. After a mid-season trade from Cincinnati, Boone hit .254 with six homers for New York, but he cemented his status in Yankees’ lore when he took Tim Wakefield deep to left to send the Bombers back to the World Series.
In a journeyman career in the NHL Rupp spent 11 seasons playing for six different teams, scoring 54 regular season goals. A rookie in 2003, he hadn’t scored in the entire postseason heading into Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, where the Devils were meeting the Ducks. Yet it was his game-opening goal that was the ultimate game-winner as New Jersey hoisted its third Stanley Cup in less than a decade.
A former eighth-round pick, Talbot was Mr. Clutch during the Penguins’ 2008 run to the Stanley Cup Final, scoring the game-winner in the Eastern Conference Final clincher against the Flyers, and netting a tying goal in the final minute of regulation in Game 5 against the Red Wings, before ultimately losing the series to Detroit. He and the Pens got their revenge in a rematch in 2009, where in the 2-1 Pittsburgh win in Game 7 (at Joe Louis Arena, no less) Talbot scored both goals.
Battier undoubtedly had a solid NBA career, but by the 2013 NBA Finals he was 34 years old and coming off the bench for the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh heat. Going into Game 7 against the Spurs, one could assume any of the Big 3 would be Miami’s difference-maker. However it was Battier who drained six three-pointers off the bench to help the Heat win their second straight championship.
He never had a 20-goal season. In fact, he never even cracked the 40-point mark in a season during his decade-long NHL career. However Matteau will live in hockey history forever, as his wraparound goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final sent the Rangers past the Devils. It sparked one of the most famous goal calls in history (Howie Rose’s “Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!”) and helped the Rangers lift their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.