Robert Williams earned the respect of both Boston fans and his teammates in the final seconds of his first career appearance at the TD Garden Sunday night.
In what became the Celtics’ first win of the preseason over the Charlotte Hornets, the rookie power forward came up with a game-saving block with 16 seconds left on the clock.
The Celtics were just barely winning with a score of 113-112, and the Hornets’ Malik Monk lined up outside the arc for what could be a game-winning three-pointer. Williams, who stands at 6-feet-10-inches, swatted at Monk’s shot from just inside the arc and was able to tip the ball into the hands of teammate Brad Wanamaker.
Wanamaker carried the ball to center court, finding Williams open up ahead on his left. Williams had a wide open lane straight to the basket, but instead of sinking the win-securing shot himself– and he easily could’ve– Williams sent it across the paint to Guerschon Yabusele, who sunk the final layup for the win.
ROBERT WILLIAMS WITH THE GAME-SEALING BLOCK and assist pic.twitter.com/PuSUwqY649
— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) October 1, 2018
Most 20-year-old professional athletes would’ve taken the shot and game-winning glory all for themselves, which is why Williams’s act of selflessness caught the eye of both fans and teammates.
“He fits very well with our system,” teammate Kyrie Irving said after the game. “Those little things right there just show you how well he fits in the mold of being a Boston Celtic. He makes the huge play and then passes to Guersch when he could’ve easily wind-milled or done something crazy for the crowd. But he passes to Guersch, we seal the game, and I know that felt good for him and for the rest of us.”
Irving wasn’t the only teammate that was impressed by Williams’s move.
“[I’m] very impressed by his energy level,” Celtics center Al Horford said. “You can already tell he’s very committed to trying to do the right thing– [getting] here early, working extra, really getting after it. On the defensive end, what really impresses me about him is his impact on the ball, his ability to contest and change people’s shots.
Sunday night was an opportunity for Williams to show off his versatility on the court and do some switching out and defending, something he’s been practicing since his college days at Texas A&M.
“It’s just something you’ve gotta be prepared to do,” Williams said of his switching ability. “Coach (Brad Stevens) said that in a timeout, he told us, ‘Hey, 1 through 5, we’re switching now,’ so you’ve just gotta be mentally ready for something like that.”
The 20-year-old’s ability on the court wasn’t lost on his coach, either.
“I thought Robert’s defense gave us some options there late,″ Stevens said. “He’s a pretty unique guy when you’re that size and can switch like that.”
Williams’s recent behavior is perhaps even more impressive in light of his offseason hiccups with tardiness. The rookie’s issues with punctuality have been well-documented, but Williams is making strides to avoid repeating his early mistakes. He even moved within walking distance of the Celtics’ practice facility and makes a point to be early– especially on those rare occasions that game day falls on a Sunday.
After a couple missteps to start his #Celtics career, Robert Williams told me he got here really early today. Said he knew the #Pats were playing and didn’t want to deal with in traffic. When I told him Foxboro isn’t close to here, he said, “ I didn’t want to take any chances!”
— Abby Chin (@tvabby) October 1, 2018