The Boston Celtics came into Tuesday night’s matchup against the Miami Heat with the odds stacked against them. The Heat had lost just two games at American Airlines Arena this season, and no Jayson Tatum, Enes Kanter or Javonte Green meant Boston was dealing with a lack of depth. Brad Stevens needed others to step up.
Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown helped fill in the offensive void left by Tatum’s absence, scoring 29 and 25 points, respectively. They were efficient, aggressive and everything the Celtics needed them to be against their Eastern Conference foe. But a deeper look shows the importance of Grant Williams’ 23 minutes.
No, his box score doesn’t necessarily jump out at you, but at a glance, you certainly can acknowledge the productivity. Five points, seven rebounds, one block and one steal in just over 23 minutes. Not bad for a rookie, right? No not at all, but Williams has a lot of Marcus Smart in him. A majority of his best plays don’t show up in the box score. They often won’t show up in the SportsCenter highlights, either, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t important.
Take this offensive rebound, for example.
Williams is able to use his quick hands to beat Chris Silva to the rebound. Without hesitation, he hits a wide-open Brad Wanamaker who cashes in. If Miami had grabbed the defensive rebound off Kemba Walker’s miss, the Celtics would have gone into the fourth quarter with a one-point lead, or even trailing if the Heat converted on their final possession. Instead, the Celtics head in up four and put a brief halt to Miami’s strong push.
Williams’s effort on the offensive glass didn’t stop in the fourth. He came up huge with just under nine minutes left in regulation, helping the Celtics stretch their lead to eight.
Brown misses a corner 3, but Williams beats Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, and Dion Waiters to the rebound. He kicks it back out to the perimeter, allowing Wanamaker to reset, providing Boston with another opportunity at second-chance points – something he’d provide later in the same possession.
Williams initially shows a screen, disrupting Dragic’s route and allowing Wanamaker to head for the foul line with the defender on his back (and eventually out of the play). His floater misses back-rim, but Williams has position on Adebayo. He uses it to grab the offensive rebound, his second of the possession, and puts it right back up to give Boston an 88-80 lead.
Adebayo, who is averaging 16 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists for Miami this season, struggled throughout this stretch against Williams. Knowing he had a height disadvantage in the matchup, Williams used his impressive footwork and positioning to keep up with the 6-foot-9 forward.
Williams does a variety of things well on this possession. After setting a screen for Smart on Tyler Herro, Williams slips his initial instinct to get position on Adebayo. By doing this, he seals off the lane as best he could for Marcus Smart. Herro makes a nice recovery, however, and Adebayo shifts over to help, leaving Williams open in the restricted area. After Smart delivers the pass, Williams catches Adebayo biting on his pump fake and goes right into him to draw the foul.
The Celtics haven’t been great at getting to the free-throw line, but they were just over their average clip of 22 attempts Tuesday night. It was little things like this that helped them get there.
Williams has been tremendous on the defensive end for Boston all year long, and last night was no different. His ability to go straight up without fouling has been a major bright spot over his first 44 games, which is a testament to his basketball IQ. The defensive abilities were on display in Miami, especially in the fourth quarter.
The first play that comes to mind is his block on Waiters.
After Adebayo sets the screen on Wanamaker, Williams does a nice job to contain the guard enough so his teammate can catch him near the elbow. With his back on Adebayo, Williams allows himself to protect the rim when Waiters turns the corner for a layup. He sends the shot in the opposite direction, sending Celtics Twitter into pandemonium.
Less than 20 seconds later, Williams made another stellar defensive play.
Williams anticipates Adebayo’s slip inside to perfection, staying right with him and keeping a hand high to disrupt the entry pass. The play develops just as he’d like, and Williams deflects Dragic’s pass into open space, allowing the Celtics to push out in transition.
These likely fall under Smart’s category of “Winning Plays” for most Celtics fans, and they should. Williams knows his role on this team, and he’s excelling in it of late. When guys go down to injury, he becomes even more important. Williams stepped up to the plate Tuesday night in Miami, delivering a solid performance to help Boston notch a huge road win.