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Welcome to the NBA Finals, Grant Williams

Boston’s Batman has been talking the talk. Probably a bit too much. In Game 3, he finally looks like he’s ready to walk the walk.

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

You might have heard them over ESPN’s telecast, but if not, you definitely heard about them from the Warriors postgame. “Dropping f-bombs with children in the crowd,” Klay Thompson said, referring to the TD Garden crowd’s “F*** you, Draymond!” chants, sung to the tune of “Let’s go, Celtics!” (*clap*, *clap*, *clap clap clap*).

“Real classy. Good job, Boston.” Steve Kerr unintentionally fanned the flame, too, adding, “Classy, very classy.” (Not that the Warriors would know anything about mean-spirited fans, nor would they ever back them up when asked about their classless chides later on. No way, not in the House of Kerr.)

For Grant Williams, the outright horror expressed from the Warriors camp regarding the chants has been a bit much. “Not the worst things I’ve heard, I feel like,” Williams said. “Some of those chants, you just accept. Some people respond to them well, some embrace them; others, they shy away from them.

“I feel like the Garden fans don’t hold back. That’s what I love about them. They’re going to be there for you on the positive side, and they’re going to let you know whether you’re doing the right thing or not. When we were losing last year, they were doing the same thing to us. So, we respect it.”

2022 NBA Finals - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Historically speaking, it may have been on brand for Williams to egg on the fans as they showered Green with a sea of f-bombs. Maybe it wouldn’t have come in the form of wildly advertent, flamboyant arm-waving. I imagine it would have been akin to Brad Stevens pumping up the crowd encouraging him to bring Tacko Fall into a 2019 game that had turned into a blowout. It would have been a subtle sign of acknowledgement — a “keep bringing the energy” nod of sorts — just obvious enough for it to attract the cameras, but not enough for someone to point at Grant and say “hey, he’s saying ‘f*** you, Draymond, too!”

But Grant’s not like that. He’s just Boston’s resident talker, the guy who will snap back at you when you snap at him; the guy who will squirm his way into the opposition’s huddle, just to be a nuisance. At times, it fuels the Celtics. And at times, it works as a deterrent, a distraction, or gets him in trouble. But some of Grant’s better moments come when he’s remained on the quieter side, turning in his mouth for a mean mug, and his ill-advised physicality for muscling off his opponents as he outworks them for an offensive rebound (or three).

Which is exactly what Williams brought to Game 3, his best effort of the Finals to this point, a 10-point, five-rebound outing feature a steal and just two fouls — plus one avoided dust-up with Green that Williams maturely bypassed with a smirk and a nudge or two positioned solely as him jockeying for position, not aiming to out-physical Green in the paint. It all worked beautifully, and showed exactly what Williams can provide in this series when he’s not focused primarily on his conversations with the officials, and more so, on taking on the tasks that other role players might let fall by the wayside. (It’s somewhat fitting that both Grant and Rob Williams had their best outings in Game 3, both of which were marked by them doing what we call “the little things”.)

“It was exciting. Not only was the competitive edge there from both teams, but also the energy in the Garden,” Williams said of the supercharged crowd’s support in Game 3. “We had the fans behind us. They didn’t shut up. That’s the best part about it. No matter if we had a bad run or good run, they were there the entire time for us. That’s something you love to have as a team.”

It was about time for Williams to arrive in The Finals after what had been a disappointing run of down outings dating back to the early days of the Eastern Conference Finals. Following his explosions in the Celtics’ Game 7 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round (27 points on 10/22 shooting and 7/18 from three) and their Game 2 win in Miami to even the Eastern Conference Finals (19 points and a plus-37 on/off differential that would make Bill Russell proud), he all-but disappeared. Over his next seven games, he scored in double-figures just twice — Games 3 and 7 against Miami (11 and 10, respectively) — and shot 31 percent from three.

He was almost unplayable, only warranting time off of Ime Udoka’s bench due to a need for bodies bigger than Payton Pritchard on the floor in dire situations. Williams, despite his importance to Boston’s run, has occasionally appeared more interested in complaining to the officials than talking shop with his teammates and coaches. (Perhaps not at all coincidentally, he racked up 3.4 fouls per game during that stretch, too. Those distracting discussions with officials Scott Foster and Zach Zarba didn’t seem to be working.)

Against the Warriors, Williams simply has to play, and if he can bring the sort of energy he brought to Game 3, he’ll be a key cog in what the Celtics hope can be a winning effort. His three offensive rebounds in Game 3 were tied for a team-high with Al Horford, Robert Williams, and Jaylen Brown, proving that what works best for Boston is a team-wide effort to crash the boards and, overall, to play with more physicality than the opposition as a unit. Without Grant, that mission suffers. As much as he can occasionally serve as a stalling agent for the Celtics’ momentum, more often than not, he’s a key cog in pushing the team forward.

At Finals media day before the series, Williams mentioned that a week prior, he had been watching the Warriors first title win in 2015. “I was going for the Warriors then, back in the day because I was a Draymond (Green) guy,” Williams said. “That was a fun moment for me because my teammates were all going for Bron ... All these guys were betting on the Cavs and when they beat them, I talked so much trash for a week.”

Which is what made things all that much more ironic when mics picked up Williams calling Green a bozo, and Green responded by saying, “You’re not me. You want to be me.”

Grant Williams may not be Draymond Green. He may never become Draymond Green. But he’s similar in a lot of ways — a chatterbox, a workhorse. At his core, he’s a different player. He’s a streaky shooter, one who’s great on his hottest heaters. He’s a solid defender, but a handsier one with a stouter frame. He doesn’t have quite as much bounce as prime Draymond, but plenty of the same gall that the former Defensive Player of the Year carries himself with.

So, no, Grant Williams isn’t Draymond Green. But he’s a similar case. And for Boston, that could be enough.

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