When Daniel Theis picked up his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter, Brad Stevens was forced to make adjustments. Robert Williams initially went in to match the size of Serge Ibaka. but the Raptors decided to close with their small ball lineup. Stevens then called on Grant Williams who, up to that point, had not played a minute in Game 7.
Williams answered the call and played some of his best defense all season long. He gave the Celtics the option to switch everything against a smaller Raptors’ lineup. The Raptors tried attacking him at multiple spots, but he stayed strong and held his ground opposite arguably Toronto’s best player, Pascal Siakam.
Very early on, the rookie had a target on his back in his Game 7 debut. Siakam went after him right out the gate trying to bully him down low. Siakam drove on Williams and scored after a tip in on his own miss. The refs missed a traveling call on Siakam there, but this basket gave Siakam the confidence to keep trying to exploit Williams.
One of the things Grant Williams has worked on in his rookie season is his body position and cutting off angles. Williams is undersized and doesn’t have a wide wingspan, so he’s utilized his strong base and high basketball IQ. Siakam did score (again, after a travel and a questionable hook), but Williams did beat him to his spots and stayed in front the whole drive keeping his arms up.
Most importantly, Williams maintained his poise and stay resilient. He gets scored on, but does not hang his head. He knew he had good position, so he was not going to let that no-call rattle him and have Siakam win the battle against them. About a minute later, Grant Williams was challenged similarly on defense. Once again, it was Siakam trying to will his way to the basket through Williams in the post. Grant took him on at the top of the key and stayed in front the whole time, keeping his hands up sliding lateral to cut off Siakam’s go-to right hand. Marcus Smart provided help that turned into a Williams’ steal.
One questionable call on another Siakam drive to the hoop had Mad Brad and Williams questioning the call on a hot mic. With about two minutes left, Daniel Theis checked back in for a total of 11 seconds picking up his sixth foul. Grant Williams quickly took his spot back again, and it was his game for the rest of regulation.
The next moments of the game for Grant Williams were the nerve-wracking moments that perfectly embodied his development so far this year. It was a two-point Celtics lead when Marcus Smart tracked Norman Powell down and had his iconic block. The next possession Kemba slipped the ball through and found Grant under the basket where he got hacked putting up his shot. More importantly, it was Kyle Lowry’s sixth foul. Williams missed both free throws with a chance to put the Celtics up four. Luckily, Tatum had his back grabbing an offensive rebound.
Williams could have beaten himself after missing crucial FT’s and given up a mistake on the other end. Instead, he used his resilient mindset to make the second biggest stop in the game. It was that mindset from the rookie that Smart was raving about after the game saying, “he wasn’t even a rookie anymore. The General.”
Once again, the Celtics played perfect team defense, forcing the Raptors to the end of the shot clock. With seconds remaining, the game was in the balance with Williams switched on to VanVleet one-on-one. Again, the lateral quickness of Williams kept VanVleet uncomfortable out beyond the arc, pressuring him to hoist a desperate three-point attempt (that was blocked but not called).
The Celtics clinched Game 7 on a big performance by Jayson Tatum and the rest of the starters who put in huge minutes Friday night. However, Grant Williams was picked off the bench cold as a rookie, and played the most important seven minutes of his early career.