Celtics

Stan Van Gundy lauds Grant Williams’s defense ahead of Celtics’ Game 6

"I always thought he was a good defender. Now I'm wondering if he's the best defender in the league."

Grant Williams Celtics
The Celtics' Grant Williams rips the ball away from the Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first quarter of Game 2. Jim Davis/Globe Staff
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There’s no denying the Celtics’ backs will be against the wall when they face down elimination against the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night at Fiserv Forum.

Coming back from a heartbreaking Game 5 loss in Boston and forcing a Game 7 at TD Garden will be no small task against Giannis Antetokoumnpo and the defending champion Bucks, of course.

But if nothing else, the Celtics have proven themselves full of surprises this postseason, including stealing Game 4 from the Bucks in Milwaukee.

Former NBA coach and current TNT analyst Stan Van Gundy has seen this heavyweight fight up close on a few occasions already and has come away impressed.

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“It’s the best series I’ve seen in years, to be honest. The level of competitiveness and intensity is incredible,” he told Sports Illustrated on Friday in the lead-up to calling Game 6 alongside Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller.

A big reason for that, he said, is the unsung performance of players like Al Horford and Grant Williams, who have helped top Celtics stars Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart keep pace with the defending NBA champions.

Horford’s epic 30-point Game 4 likely saved the Celtics’ season to this point — a startling performance for the 35-year-old former All-Star who was expected to play more of a leadership role than a playoff series-changing one for Boston.

But Van Gundy especially singled out Williams for regularly doing what few in the world can: stay in front of a freight-training Antetokoumnpo.

“I think Grant Williams, in particular, when he’s been matched up individually on Giannis, has surprised me just a little,” the ex-coach said. “I always thought he was a good defender. Now I’m wondering if he’s the best defender in the league.”

That’s interesting praise given that the Celtics also employ Smart, the newly minted Defensive Player of the Year, and Robert Williams, who is one of the league’s best rim-protectors when healthy.

Though calling Williams the best defender in the league is a stretch, you can’t undersell what he’s doing against one of the most dominant players in basketball. Williams’s unique combination of strength and quickness has made him the best option to challenge Antetokoumnpo’s ruthless drives to the rim, and his willingness to put his body on the line has drawn multiple offensive fouls against the two-time MVP as well.

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The Celtics will need another stellar defensive effort on Friday, plus a few timely three-pointers, to keep their Eastern Conference Finals hopes alive.