Ahead of yesterday’s Thunder game, which the Celtics won (somewhat) handily, I was combing through the Nuggets game, which the Celtics won handily, in search of the exact moment that Grant Williams realized he was no longer just “Grant,” but a masked vigilante with a mission to defend Gotham — er, Boston.
Sure, his stalwart defensive effort against the reigning league MVP, Nikola Jokic, will serve as a significant pillar in any telling of his hero’s journey. But every hero has that moment, the one that changes them. Peter Parker was bit by a spider; Jefferson Reed only turned into Meteor Man after he was struck in the head by a space rock.
For Grant Williams, it was this:
Grant added a fadeaway into his bag of tricks pic.twitter.com/xkxyaeY8AN— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) March 21, 2022
NBC Sports Boston’s Sean Grande nailed it on the call: “Ooo, Grant! That’s new!”
It was. So is the Grant we’ve seen this season.
If Sunday’s win in Denver was the night that Grant Williams discovered that he wanted to be called Batman, Monday night’s victory in Oklahoma City was the moment he became The Batman. Much like Robert Pattinson’s rendition of the caped crusader in Matt Reeves’ hit 2022 film, The Batman, Williams has discovered the kind of hero he wants to be this season, and has done a remarkable job of filling in his own gaps to solidify his mission as a player. Does he still have his flawed tendencies? Sure. But he’s becoming a more versatile asset; the kind of hero every team needs.
“It wasn’t just because of the whole Joker thing,” he said Monday of his wish to be referred to by his self-ordained nickname, the one his dad attempted to coin a year ago after he played well against Jokic. “It was more so I’m not like the most athletic, I’m not the most incredible, but brains and then like everything else you work with... Tonight, it just helped, swooping in, had my cape on, helped out.”
Batman stays ready pic.twitter.com/jHESvKOdBo— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 21, 2022
It has been fun watching Grant convert his zany energy into confidence this season — perhaps that’s the way in which he’s most like Peter Parker, as he noted in last night’s press conference. He’s always appeared to be a fun hang, but now, he’s a reliable offensive option. His shooting splits (48-42-91) border on elite-level efficiency. His total points per 100 shot attempts, 129.9, place him in the league’s 83rd percentile among bigs, per Cleaning the Glass. It’s well-documented that Williams is one of the league’s best shooters from the corner: 29 percent of his shots come from there (99th percentile), and he makes 49 percent of them (93rd percentile). But overall this season, his career-best 42 percent shooting from deep shows marked improvement over time. In his rookie year, he shot 25 percent from three, and as a sophomore, he hit just 37 percent.
In short, Williams has never been as offensively dynamic and dependable as he has been this season.
And Williams reached new heights against the Thunder on Monday night when he recorded the first 20 point/10 rebound game of his career, both totals were career highs. Williams shot 50 percent from the field, despite an uncharacteristic 1-for-4 night from deep, and went five-of-six (83 percent) from the free-throw line. He also managed to not record a single turnover, despite playing the third-most minutes (37:50) that he has all season in a start in place of Robert Williams.
Williams moved a bit more on the floor than we’re accustomed to seeing from him. Instead of remaining stationary in the corner or in and around the post like he tends to, he made swift cuts, moving from one spot to the next after a pass. He covered 2.81 total miles of court during the game against Oklahoma City, according to NBA tracking data, the most of any Celtic, and the second-most of any player in the game behind OKC’s Darius Bazley (2.92). That’s a weird stat, but it shows Williams’ level of activity over the course of those four quarters.
Notice how often Williams found his way into the paint, even when those opportunities seem far away. Maybe it was the minutes, or the starting spot, or just a mood, but Williams scored 12 of his 20 points in the point — for reference, he averages 2.4 points in the paint per game this season, just ninth-most of any Celtic this season.
Williams one-upped his own play on offense with his hustle play on both ends to thwart a late bid for a Thunder comeback. He hustled down an offensive rebound and drew a foul off a missed three from Jaylen Brown.
And moments later, he swatted away Tre Mann’s three-point attempt. Game over, for all intents and purposes, despite Oklahoma City — now on a 10-game losing streak — making a serious run to make this game close, despite it not feeling that way for three quarters.
“I feel like this team is growing closer and closer every single day,” Williams said. “We are proving ourselves so we can compete not only with the best teams, the worst teams, but anyone in the league. It’s a matter of maintaining the consistency, not riding the highs or lows, just staying even-keeled.”
Yeah, Williams can tend to be erratic off the dribble — there’s a version of the play in this article’s first video where Williams dribbles it off his foot, or has his shot sent back by Jokic — but he’s become more attune to when it’s time to shoot and time to reset and take stock of his next move. Sure, he leaves something to be desired on the defensive end; he’s occasionally clunky, and easy to beat off the dribble. But his strength and girth work in his favor, as he can body shooters down low, deterring even the easiest of bunnies.
It’s not always pretty. But for Williams, that’s hardly the name of the game. It’s about how you respond, about how you adapt to your role. The Celtics are learning that as it pertains to their place among the NBA’s elite at this very moment; Williams has been an integral part of it.
“We just learned that we have that perseverance and the fight through adversity, both in the many games as well as the fortitude to stay with one another,” he said. “... It’s a matter of maintaining that and keeping that going and keep being the team that we are, playing the way that we are.”