The Boston Celtics added to their winning ways Monday night, as they handled the New Orleans Pelicans at home without much trouble. Perhaps a Celtics team that has title aspirations should be expected to take care of business against a .500 team at home. That said, this game was a throw back to the “Hospital Celtics” of old, with six players unavailable. Three of the DNPs were Boston big men and all three of the “max contract” players were unavailable. There was also an MVP candidate in town and Anthony Davis poured on 41 points in the Garden, typically something that results in a win for the NOLA birds.
Monday night, the Celtics controlled tempo and pace and cruised to a 113-100 victory that was less close than the box score indicated. While Davis scored a whopping 41 points, he needed 34 shots to do so, which is not a particularly efficient number for an NBA big man. Bearing a large responsibility for that was Celtics’ rookie Robert Williams.
Anthony Davis on Robert Williams blocks: "Yeah, I was surprised. I thought he was going to go for the pump fake, and he didn’t. I just tried to shoot over. He’s good. He’s talented. A good defensive player."— Jay King (@ByJayKing) December 11, 2018
The Timelord (a nickname invented to mock sports radio’s propensity for overblowing events rather than Williams himself, as many wrongly believe) has usurped Guerschon Yabusele as the Celtics’ end of bench fan favorite. Twitter promptly erupts whenever the Celtics build a lead large enough to earn the rookie time on the floor. However, with the Celtics numerous front-court causalities ahead of the game, Robert Williams not only saw his first consequential minutes of the NBA season—he found himself matched up against one of league’s possible MVP candidates.
The result was some really good individual defense and Williams’ potential as the big man heir apparent came into focus. I went through and scored this individual match up possession by possession.
On one of Williams’ first possessions of the game, he found himself in isolation with Davis and choked up tightly to take away Davis’s airspace, anticipating an entry pass. Davis feels William and rolls back door, burning the rookie with a spin move. It’s an early mistake for Williams, but he seems to learn from it later on. (Score: Williams 0 - Davis 1)
In the play above, Williams is able to bump Davis off of his spot as the entry pass is incoming. When Davis tries to turn to shoot the ball, Williams uses his great length and size to go block the ball. This set the table for future defensive possessions. (Score: Williams 1 - Davis 1)
Here the Pelicans put Williams in an off-ball screening action early in the shot clock. It’s a nice idea, because you typically run pin-downs like that to free up shooting specialist like Kyle Korver, so big men don’t normally have much experience navigating the screens.
Here Williams struggled a bit with navigating the (tepid) pick by Tim Frazier. It’s an understandably tricky spot for a young player, because your instinct is going to be to stay near the rim for protection, but it’s also probably inadvisable to give an elite scorer like Anthony Davis a clean look at the rim. Williams eventually commits, but is a few beats late, and Davis gets a good shot off. Given how late he was to the shot attempt, it’s a little frightening that Williams is able to recover within a foot of blocking it, but this round still goes to The Brow. (Score: Williams 1 - Davis 2)
Later in the game, the real fun started. Here the Pelicans run a clear out of the strong side, sprinkling everyone else around the arc and making a point to get Davis the ball and make way for the superstar. The message here is clear: We like the idea of our MVP candidate being isolated on a rookie.
However, the Pelicans didn’t realize that ‘rookie’ is a temporal designation that has no bonds on the Lord of Time. Williams does a great job of denying on the play, not allowing Davis to make a deep catch and forcing him to jab out after the catch. Davis can’t find a path past Williams, so spins into a difficult eight-footer, which Williams contests. It’s a mid-range miss and win for Williams on a set designed to victimize him. (Score: Williams 2 - Davis 2)
Earlier, I highlighted the Timelord making things difficult for The Brow, not letting him get the ball in his spots and doing his work early. Something as simple as changing where a player catches a pass by a foot or two can make a big difference. This play is an example of that. Here Davis gets the catch right where he wants it and quickly goes to work against Williams. He shows Davis a little too much of the paint and lets him get to the middle before working a cutback hook for two. That’s the danger of being up against a guy of Davis’s caliber, one mistake and you are dead. (Score: Williams 2 - Davis 3)
Here Williams loses track of Davis late in the half for a split second and Davis flashes to the paint, where he gets a deep paint touch. Williams recovers quickly though, and Davis has to rush the shot. Williams is there with a big contest that shows off his unbelievable reach. (Score: Williams 3 - Davis 3)
It’s unclear if Williams gets any of the the ball on the ball, but his presence definitely makes Davis rush the shot, and it’s rare to see Davis miss a shot as close as that. I’m going to score this one as a draw, but this could be a turning point where Davis realizes just how much range Williams has. (Score: Williams 4 - Davis 4)
This next play starts off as some busted defense, as Tim Frazier gets by Terry Rozier, who has taken himself out of the play by gambling. Williams finds himself in a tough spot where he must stop the penetration and contain the roll man at the same time. On the initial push, Williams shows good instincts and stays solid to deny Frazier a lane to the rim.
However, Frazier gets the rookie with a pump fake (Wiliams’ likely scouting report weakness is “will bite on fakes”) and, once Williams leaves his feet, Frazier finds Davis for the flush when Ojeleye isn’t able to rotate in time. I’m not going to score this round because this was more of a failure in team defense, but in order to take the next step, Timelord will need to be more judicious with his choices on when to jump.
This is where a game’s worth of using length to bother a guy starts to pay dividends. Here, Davis gets a catch at the top of the arc and Timelord does a good job of giving himself enough space to retreat during an attack, but also not too much so he can contest the shot. Davis elects to take the shot and is wild with it after the Williams’ contest. Perhaps it just slipped out of his hands, but I think Williams’ length is starting to play a factor here and Davis altered his shot a bit to make sure it didn’t get blocked. (Score: Williams 5 - Davis 4)
Here’s some pretty basic PnR defense for Williams, who finds himself in a 2-1 after Brown goes over the Davis screen. Davis gets a downhill start, but Rozier pulls over to help which gives Williams enough time to get back in contact and challenge the shot as Davis is attacking the rim. Davis misses another close shot and the Celtics collect the board. (Score: Williams 6 - Davis 4)
Finally, we get an Anthony Davis pop out here, where he gets the catch after Morris stays attached to his man through the screen. The important part of his play is that the Pelicans have cleared out the lane and spaced around the arc for Davis to work, ensuring that he just has to beat Williams to get a clean look at the rim. That doesn’t happen, as Davis elects to take a relatively open long 2 instead of attacking and challenging Williams. Good defense is getting your opponent to take the shots you want them to take and this definitely qualifies. (Score: Williams 7 - Davis 4)
Williams will be under contract with the Celtics for the next few years, which is important because all of the three Celtics rotation big men (Daniel Theis, Aron Baynes, and Al Horford) could all be free agents this summer. Another frontcourt rotation piece in Marcus Morris is likely playing himself into a big contract somewhere else, too.
While likely not a big piece for a healthy version of this current Celtics squad, Williams could be an enormous part of this Celtics team as soon as next year. Seeing him hold well in a tough match up against one of the best players in the world is very encouraging for Celtics fans and it’s clear that the future is looking even brighter in Boston...
...whenever Timelord decides that future is.