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A curious DNP for Grant Williams

Usually a mainstay in the rotation, Williams didn’t play against the Cavaliers.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Celtics earned a key win on Wednesday against the Cavaliers, and the 117-113 final score doesn’t indicate how much they controlled the game. But lost in the headlines was Grant Williams receiving his first DNP-CD of the season.

Before last night, the 4th year forward had played in 61 of 62 games, averaging 8.4 points in 27.3 minutes while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from three. In eleven February games, his field goal percentage dropped to 33% and three-point to 32.5%.

Head coach Joe Mazzulla said it wasn’t a performance-based decision, and offered a one-word answer when asked about the DNP: “matchups.” In effectively Williams’ spot in the rotation, newly-acquired Mike Muscala brought “the ability to stretch the floor... He adds a level of length, rim protection, and physicality in the paint.”

“When Mike was in, we were able to play a different defensive lineup,” Mazzulla went on to say. “Didn’t want to switch these guys as much in that second unit. Because of their sub patterns, we went bigger.”

Regardless of the matchups, Grant’s minutes have declined since the All-Star break. He only played 16 minutes in Boston’s 15-point loss against the Knicks and 6 minutes in their 4-point overtime win against the Pacers. He played his normal load of 29 minutes in Saturday night’s victory against the Sixers, and Joel Embiid shot 2-of-6 with Grant as the primary defender, the only Celtic to hold him under 50 percent shooting.

Although Mazzulla said he wanted to avoid switching, Donovan Mitchell still found ways to hunt Al Horford. In the second half, Mitchell shot 5-of-6 with Horford as the primary defender. After he scored 19 points in the 3rd quarter, you’d think Grant — one of the best bigs in the NBA at defending smaller guards — would get some minutes.

Instead, Horford played 33 minutes, Robert Williams played 31, and Mike Muscala played 11. Horford had one of his best performances of the season, hitting his first eight shots and finishing with 23 points and 11 rebounds. He’s averaged 31 minutes a game this season, and considering his age, I wouldn’t mind seeing his minutes reduced for the final 20 games so he’s fresh for the playoffs. The 24-year-old Grant, conversely, doesn’t need a minutes restriction.

Was Cleveland’s duo of Evan Mobley and Jarret Allen a bad matchup for him? I don’t buy that. Mobley creates matchup problems with his versatility, but Grant is stronger and quicker, and while he’d have a difficult time contesting the 7-footer’s shot, Mobley’s only shooting 21 percent from deep this year. Allen has the obvious size advantage, but Grant’s proven he can battle on the block with bigger players (see: him forcing Embiid into a 17-foot fadeaway towards the end of Saturday’s game). Additionally, the threat of Grant’s shooting would bring Allen away from the paint on offense.

I don’t believe we’ll see too many (if any) more DNP-CD’s for Grant. It was surprising that he didn’t play last night but I can’t imagine this becomes a trend.

Grant is expecting a payday this offseason. The Celtics reportedly didn’t offer anything more than $50 million during extension negotiations, and he’s certain to command more than that. Marc Stein reported that he’s looking for a contract that pays $20 million annually. As a restricted free agent, Boston has the ability to match any offer sheets.

“Grant, he knows what he brings to this team and the type of player he is,” Jaylen Brown said in support of his teammate. “Grant has helped us get to the Finals last year. So obviously, we’re going to need him. So, keep his head, he’s gonna be aight. He’s a professional, so we just gotta keep moving forward.”

The DNP, if anything, highlights the depth of this Celtic squad. Most teams rely on 7 or 8 guys to play heavy minutes each night, but Boston can easily go 10 deep. Often, this leads to guys getting buried on the bench who deserve to play (see: Payton Pritchard). But winning cures everything, and Mazzulla’s decision led to a win against a Cavs team that gave the Celtics problems earlier in the year. I’d be shocked if Grant didn’t get back to his normal 25-30 minutes this Friday against the Nets.

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