With Enes Kanter sidelined with a knee injury, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens had to get creative at the center spot in just the second game of the season.
Stevens had plenty of options to fill the position, but instead of leaning on Daniel Theis, who got the start in Kanter’s absence, or Robert Williams III in the C’s 112-106 win over the Toronto Raptors Friday night, the veteran coach gave a bulk of the minutes to Grant Williams, especially in crunch time.
Stevens had texted Williams on Thursday saying, “Better know all of the five (center position) by tomorrow,” and Williams, an undersized rookie standing a 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds, delivered in his 22 minutes by making scrappy, hustle plays on both ends of the floor, while also being a part of the closing unit that put away the defending champions for the C’s first win of the season.
“I didn’t know if I was going to play a lot at the position or play little or play many other positions, but I’m comfortable doing it,” Williams said. “It’s something I’ve done at Tennessee, before Tennessee and growing up. Being that short guy that people don’t think is that tough, you just get that competitiveness and that mentality of you’re just going to come out there and do whatever it takes and be that physical presence.”
Williams made the most of his time on the parquet after playing just seven minutes in the season-opening loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. While Williams scored just four points on 2-of-9 shooting, the energy plays he made on the glass and his sound defense were instrumental.
Williams also finished with four assists and seven rebounds, most importantly, six of those boards were of the offensive variety. Arguably Williams’s biggest play of the night came late in the third quarter when Williams controlled a carom off of a Theis miss and kicked the ball to the corner where Jayson Tatum sunk a triple in a back-and-forth affair.
With six offensive rebounds, Grant Williams becomes just the second Celtics rookie to record 6+ offensive boards in a single game since the start of the 2014-15 season— Celtics Stats (@celtics_stats) October 26, 2019
The other: Jayson Tatum (6 - Dec. 16, 2017 at MEM)
“I was just more so hoping that everything I did was going well,” Williams said. “Just going out there, getting the rebounds, kicking it out to guys. The one time I feed into (the crowd) was when I got a rebound and kicked it to JT in the corner and I just ran down the court. I was like, ‘It’s going in. Please let this happen. I’ve seen guys do it on TV,’ and the next thing you know it went in. I was just super excited. That was a moment that I’ll remember for a long time.”
With 6:30 left in the game and the Raptors holding a slim four-point margin, veteran 7-foot-1 big man Marc Gasol entered the game for Toronto and Stevens countered with Williams taking the place of Robert Williams III.
Williams looked near unflappable playing in the pressure-packed minutes and against a center who is now in his 13th NBA season. Williams drew a charge against Gasol — Williams returned the favor on the next position by getting called for an offensive foul in which Kyle Lowry was nominated for an Academy Award — and held Gasol in check while the C’s were able to pull in front in the waning minutes.
The versatility of Williams has already been critical for the Celtics, and even though his role may change from game-to-game, Williams is the type of player that can make an impact no matter the position he plays.
“That was big time,” said Kemba Walker of Williams’s play down the stretch. “I love that kid. He has great energy. He’s super tough and he wants that. He wants those battles. He wanted to guard Marc (Gasol) and he did an unbelievable job. He was great. We’re going to need that. He’s going to have to grow up fast for us.”