Stuffing MVP candidate Anthony Davis was “just a regular block” for Celtics rookie Robert Williams.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 11, 2018
“I feel like it’s my job defensively,” said Williams, who tallied 11 rebounds, 7 points, 4 assists, and 3 blocks in a season-high 26 minutes against the Pelicans Monday night.
With just over two and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter, Williams swatted a baby hook from Davis inside the paint. The 21-year-old would again reject the big man on a turnaround 12-foot jumper in the fourth. Davis admitted he was surprised by the pair of blocks, for he expected the young center to bite on his pump fakes.
“I just tried to shoot over him,” Davis said. “He’s good. He’s talented.”
Despite aggressively looking to deflect nearly any shot attempt that came his way, Williams managed to log three-plus quarters without accruing a personal foul. He was eventually whistled for a Davis and-one early in the fourth, but the feat nevertheless reflected a high level of discipline from a player acclimating to the NBA.
Coach Brad Stevens said he thought Williams “did a lot of good things” on both ends of the floor, shouting out his omnipresence on defense and his activity on offense. Davis still totaled a relatively quiet 41 points, but Stevens noted the sum was by no means a testament to his defense.
“That was nothing against Robert,” he said. “I think ultimately [Davis] is a hard guy to guard. Robert made it as tough as possible.”
According to the league’s tracking data, Williams defended Davis on 32 possessions and surrendered 15 points on 7-for-17 shooting. Boston’s starting center Monday night, Daniel Theis, also guarded Davis on 32 possessions, allowing 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
Williams called the outing a “confidence booster,” though he was quick to point out there’s plenty of room for improvement. Earning more live reps will serve as a valuable learning experience for the first-round draft pick, who has been splitting time between the Celtics and their G-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. Prior to Monday, Williams had not recorded more than nine minutes in any of his nine NBA appearances with Boston.
“There’s not too many guys in the league that can block an Anthony Davis shot,” forward Marcus Morris said. “That alone is special. He showed that a few times. He’s a young guy, and once he really learns, and once he really gets out there and has time to play, he’s going to be a beast.”
With Guerschon Yabusele out at least a few weeks with a right ankle sprain, Al Horford day-to-day with patellar tendinitis in his left knee, and Aron Baynes nursing a left ankle sprain, it’s possible the uptake in minutes will continue for Williams.
“He’s different than all the other bigs we got,” Morris said. “I think down the line he’s going to continue to help us.”
Up next for the Celtics are the Washington Wizards Wednesday night.