There was a sequence late in the first quarter Monday that ignited Kelly Olynyk's career night and hinted that we were seeing a different, more aggressive Olynyk.
The Celtics were down three when Olynyk hauled in a defensive rebound on the block, and he elected to dribble the ball up the court himself. When the Philadelphia 76ers' Henry Sims kept backpedaling toward the free throw line, Olynyk pulled up for an early-clock, straightaway 3-pointer that tied the game.
According to the league's player tracking data, it was the first time all season Olynyk had attempted a 3-point shot after more than two dribbles and/or holding the ball for longer than two seconds. In similar situations this season, Olynyk has always thrown the ball to a guard to initiate the offense, and you could see Evan Turner curling up toward the top of the arc to receive the ball before Olynyk's shot.
Not on this night. The Celtics were struggling to get something going offensively early in Monday's game, missing seven of their first eight attempts beyond the 3-point arc and falling behind Philadelphia by as much as nine early on. Olynyk elected to take matters into his own hands.
And once that first 3-pointer fell, the floodgates were open. Olynyk stole a pass on the ensuing defensive possession and broke out the other way before pulling up for a 3-pointer from the wing. It missed, but teammate Brandon Bass got the rebound and threw it right back to Olynyk, who didn't miss a second time. The first quarter ended soon after, with Olynyk leaning into a 26-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The two-minute outburst fueled Olynyk's career-high 30 points on 12-of-17 shooting as the Celtics topped the 76ers 105-87 Monday night at Wells Fargo Center. Olynyk added 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks and an assist on maybe the best night of his pro career.
Better yet, after lighting his fuse from beyond the arc, Olynyk lived near the basket in the second half. In fact, he made seven of nine attempts near the rim overall.
Olynyk became the first Boston reserve to score 30 points in a regular-season game since Ricky Davis on April 1, 2005. Davis actually did that feat five times during his Celtics stint, and you'd have to go back to Todd Day in 1997 to find the last time it happened before Davis.
With his focus always on progress, Celtics coach Brad Stevens complimented Olynyk on his night but challenged him to bring similar offensive intensity moving forward.
"We need him to make shots," Stevens told reporters in Philadelphia. "Our team depends on it."
Olynyk had been a consistent offensive contributor into early November but went into a slump that forced Stevens to shuffle Tyler Zeller into the starting lineup. Olynyk has had quality nights this season, but the 30 points easily topped his season-high of 21, as well as his career-high of 28, set in April against the 76ers.
Olynyk is now averaging 11.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2 assists over 25.4 minutes per game. The Celtics are averaging 105.4 points per 100 possessions when Olynyk is on the court, and the number skyrocketed to 113.5 on Monday night.
The Celtics are not expecting 30 points per outing from Olynyk, but they want to be able to count on him to provide an offensive jolt whenever he's on the court. Olynyk certainly showed a more aggressive approach on Monday, and that's exactly what Stevens has been looking for.
Injury update -- Thornton out with calf tear: Celtics reserve guard Marcus Thornton will miss the next two weeks with a small tear in his left calf, Stevens told reporters before Monday's game.
Thornton suffered the injury during shooting drills at Sunday's practice. He stayed behind in Boston on Monday to undergo further testing that revealed the tear. It's a discouraging setback for a player who was just starting to play his best basketball of the season as he settled into his role in Boston.
The Celtics played Monday's game without three potential shooting guards in Thornton, Marcus Smart (foot) and James Young (shoulder). The Celtics were hopeful that Smart, who suffered a left Achilles strain on Friday, would be able to return to game action on Wednesday. Young is out two weeks while hoping rest heals a dislocated shoulder.
Stevens also suggested that second-year center Vitor Faverani, who has been inactive since February due to a pair of knee surgeries, will not return to practice until early to mid-January.