At the end of the first half on Wednesday night, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown had seven points apiece. They shot a combined 5-of-14 from the field and 1-of-4 from deep. Grant Williams led the Boston Celtics in scoring with 13 points on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting from the field (all threes). He finished the game with 17 points on 4-of-4 shooting (and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line). The 23-year-old added six rebounds and two blocks to his totals as well.
Williams struggled mightily in Game 1, scoring only seven points and missing all four of his three-point attempts. But with Boston’s stars floundering in the first half, Williams’ resurgence could not have come at a more crucial time. The Brooklyn Nets led by as much as 17 points, but without the efforts of Williams and the Celtics’ other role players, that damage could have been much worse.
In a way, these two games have been a microcosm for the last two seasons of Williams’ career. Last year, when the Celtics couldn’t keep their heads above water, neither could Williams. But now, as Boston has found their groove, Williams has found a role within the team and is thriving. After their win over Brooklyn, the young forward took the time to reflect on this journey:
Honestly, it’s kind of cool to see the progression I’ve had in my career. I remember, my rookie year, guys used to call me up and kind of isolate against me, and I got better throughout the year. And then, now it’s like, I think that’s the biggest thing, being able to defend. Knocking down shots, too. I made my shots tonight, and it helped translate on the other end. So for me, it’s just kind of a testament to the growth I’ve had over the years, but also a credit to the team and how we’ve grown. Together, kind of same core that we had when I came in my rookie year. And it’s exciting to see us kind of like, grow and bond, and continue to improve.
Through his first two years in the league, Williams averaged 16.6 minutes a night. Despite earning fairly consistent playing time, Williams found himself struggling in various areas of the game. In his rookie year, it was his three-point shot. Williams shot 25.0 percent from deep in his rookie season, a feat heavily impacted by his 0-for-25 start on the season.
Then, in his sophomore season, Williams saw a sharp drop-off in his defensive effectiveness. He went from battling against bigger centers his rookie year to getting cooked by smaller guards and versatile forwards. Before this season began, Williams talked to the media about this transition, and more specifically, about the changes he made in order to adjust moving forward:
Grant Williams on where his body is at now: "My rookie year, I had to gain weight to play the 5. Then I never lost that weight. Now, I've lost 12-15 pounds. I've got another 8-10 to lose to be able to play the 4 more. I want to be like a 'Baby Al'."— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) September 27, 2021
And now, Williams has found the best of both worlds. He shot 41.1 percent from three-point range in the regular season, which ranked 16th in the NBA. In addition, Williams’ versatility on defense has allowed him to thrive in Ime Udoka’s new defensive scheme. Both of these skills were on full display in Boston’s win over Brooklyn on Wednesday night.
In addition to his 3-of-3 performance from deep, Williams played extremely well on the defensive end, too. His presence was felt all over the court, whether it be on-ball or off-ball defense, getting blocks, or simply playing his part within Udoka’s scheme, as mentioned previously. Williams played particularly well against Kyrie Irving.
As mentioned, this production was crucial for the Celtics in Game 2, as both Tatum and Brown came out of the gates sputtering. This version of Williams is the one that most Celtics fans had hoped to see in the postseason, and after missing the mark in Game 1, he returned to form in a big way on Wednesday.
He and fellow youngster Payton Pritchard helped close the game for the Celtics, something that was not a commonality at the beginning of the season. Through the end of January, Williams was averaging 5.2 fourth-quarter minutes while Pritchard was sitting at 5.6. From then until the end of the regular season, the pair averaged 6.3 and 7.9 minutes, respectively.
Obviously, earning garbage time minutes plays a role in that uptick, considering how many blowout wins Boston had, but Wednesday night showed that Udoka is now comfortable closing with his young guys.
Brown gave Williams and Pritchard credit for their efforts during his postgame interview. He dubbed them the “heroes of the game”:
Grant’s locked in right now. Grant, Payton, they were really the heroes of this game. They played well during the stretches that we needed them to play well. Our backs were against the wall a little bit in the first half, we had some trouble getting going, and Grant made play after play. Grant is playing well right now, Payton is playing well right now. Gotta keep it rolling. Next guy up, you got to be able to just step in and make plays.
Williams caught up with Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston after the game and she asked him about the bench unit. He stated that they have one mindset when they enter the game: “do our job”:
Just come in and do our job. Honestly, that’s all we have to do. It’s playoff basketball, we don’t have to do anything more or anything less. Come in, do what we’re supposed to do, and we’ll have success like this.
"We're physical, we're a tough nose team so sending a message, there's no need. We're just going to be ourselves." - Grant Williams talks with @tvabby after the Celtics 17-point comeback win pic.twitter.com/FzKhqddgJs— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) April 21, 2022
To see Williams grow up over the years has been amazing. From being teased about his three-point struggles to being criticized for his defensive woes, Williams has developed beautifully. Now, Williams is not only an effective piece in Udoka’s rotation but an essential one.