After two strong games against the Timberwolves and Bucks, the Celtics won their third straight game against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night, blowing out the Rockets 126-102. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum had a combined 77 points, marking their 18th game with 30+ points each.
Joe Mazzulla was ruled out shortly before tipoff with eye irritation, and assistant coach Damon Stoudamire filled in as head coach for the Celtics. It was the second time for Stoudamire this season; he filled in following Mazzulla’s ejection in a loss to the Chicago Bulls.
Robert Williams had arguably his best game since returning to Boston’s lineup, posting 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting, 3-of-4 from the charity stripe, a game-high 15 rebounds, two assists and a block over 20 minutes of floor time. Williams recorded his first double-double of the season and was a +19 on the night, appearing to be just as athletic and impactful as he was before his meniscus surgery.
On how the Celtics were able to stay in the lead for most of the game despite some cold shooting from three, Robert Williams said, “by not letting our offense affect our defense...(it’s been) a big emphasis for us the past month, and thought we did a good job.” Even though he hasn’t been back for long, it’s noticeable what kind of impact Williams has on this unit, especially defensively, and how the team’s play-style, comfort and confidence changes with him on the floor.
When asked how the offense under Joe Mazzulla is different from previous years, Williams said, “yeah, this offense is a lot quicker, a lot more freedom...you know, you ought to find a way to come back and help the team, kind of over towards what they’re doing.” It will be interesting to see how Robert Williams will fit into the offensive scheme once fully back and acclimated, or how it might tailor to his strengths as a lob threat and playmaking big.
“Just doing the natural stuff I do,” said Williams when asked about what kind of feedback he’s getting and how he’s adjusting. “Telling me to get out hard, roll quick, create shots for other people.” For the rest of the Celtics roster, the change in offensive approach has been months in the making, which is where Williams has a steeper hill to climb.
“Yeah, because you know you don’t want to mess up the floor thing,” said Williams on if this was a bigger adjustment coming in later than others. “Like I said, you gotta figure out where you fit in.” With a strong emphasis on spacing and stretching the floor, Williams provides a different skillset than most of Boston’s center rotation, so there’s a chance for the Celtics to add a whole new dynamic to their attack.
As he’s gotten more minutes and worked up his conditioning, one constant question that’s arose is when will Robert Williams reclaim his starting position. So far, Boston has Williams ramping up gradually with time off the bench. If the Celtics keep winning with him in a reserve role, would the team keep him in that spot? Would Williams accept that kind of role if it meant that the team would be better? “If we’re winning, we’re winning,” said Williams, and he made clear that he’d take whatever role necessary if it meant the team was in a better position to succeed. Joe Mazzulla spoke before the game about Williams coming off the bench as well.
Mazzulla was asked about the process for bringing Robert Williams back in the starting lineup: “Are we going to do that?”— Jay King (@ByJayKing) December 27, 2022
Mazzulla said they’ll do it if it makes sense, but they might continue bringing Williams off the bench for good if that’s what’s best for the team.
“Yeah, he talked to me about it before I came back, which was expected,” said Williams on Mazzulla potentially keeping him coming off the bench. “Like I said, I’m a team player. We’re rolling with someone. I feel like we’re supposed to keep rolling with them.”
On how he’s physically feeling after each game, Williams said, “oh, I’m feeling good, man. Obviously, wind getting back under me, but like I said, just trying to figure out how to keep this thing rolling.” Beyond getting his conditioning back, he’s also been wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired knee in order to better protect it.
“It’s actually not that bad,” said Williams on how it felt to play with the brace, “I thought that *** would be terrible, I ain’t going to lie. I was dreading it, but it’s not that bad. I warmed up to it the first week.”
On what kind of growth he’s seen out of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Williams said, “ownership of mistakes on our team, even if it’s not specifically someone’s fault. I’ve seen them growing up, I’ve been here for going on five years with each other, seeing them grow up tremendously. Just leading, and not being the quiet guys anymore.”
The Celtics will put their three-game win streak to the test with a rematch against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, 7:30 pm EST tipoff.