When Marcus Smart is out of the lineup, the Boston Celtics miss all of the little things he brings to the game that generate winning plays. Fortunately, they have a Marcus Smart Jr. of sorts in Grant Williams, who is capable of contributing in many similar ways.
Tuesday night’s matchup in San Francisco marked Boston’s first game without Smart since he suffered a Grade I tear of his left medial gastrocnemius (part of the calf muscle). In Smart's absence, Williams stepped up and put forth his best effort of the season, coming off the bench to provide 15 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field, four rebounds, and two blocked shots, while helping to guide the Celtics to a 111-107 win over the Golden State Warriors.
But it was the little things – the Smart-esque contributions which didn’t show up on the box score – that stood out the most to coach Brad Stevens in regard to Williams’ play.
“I thought he did a lot of good things for us today,” said Boston’s head coach. “[The Warriors] are hard because you have to be up on all those screens that (Steph) Curry comes off, which we didn’t do a great job of, and then you also have to be physical and protect the paint. Grant gave us a little bit of both of that and I thought he did a good job on the back of our zone communicating. And then he came up with some big rebounds.”
Williams’ defensive communication, in particular, was a major plus for a Celtics team that had been struggling on that end to start the season. His vocal guidance from the middle of the floor provided a comforting presence for his teammates.
“He helped us a lot,” said Kemba Walker. “He's really smart. He pays attention to detail. He's constantly yelling out whatever the other team is doing. He's just a real talkative guy out there, and we need that.”
Williams believes that the team especially needs such strong communication during Smart’s absence, considering how the All-Defensive guard is typically the main floor general on that end of the court.
“Smart, being the heart and soul of our team, being the guy that leads us on that end of the court, with him being out, we have to step up,” Williams said. “Not just myself, but Semi (Ojeleye), other guys did a lot of great things tonight. Guys made a lot of good plays. My job was being able to communicate what was coming and be able to help guys understand that there is a priority on the court and make sure to get there and cover each other and have each other's backs.”
Williams’ trustworthiness was also present on the offensive end, where he made all four of his field-goal attempts. Three of those makes came from beyond the arc, which pushed him into first place on the team in 3-point efficiency with a mark of 46.9 percent this season.
That’s quite a remarkable improvement for a guy who started off his rookie season last year by missing his first 24 shots from deep.
“Definitely more comfortable,” Williams said of his shooting development. “With this team, you got to take the open look, the one that is available because we have a lot of talented players that get you great looks and you can't be shy to take them. I'm just a little bit more comfortable going through the game, confident in my shot and just trying to continue to grow and progress as time goes on.”
Williams' teammates are growing more confident in his abilities as well, and they could be counting on him more than ever during Smart’s absence over the next two or three weeks.
“I trust him,” said Jayson Tatum, who logged a team-high 27 points. “We trust him in the biggest moments to come in and do what we need him to do. And that’s to make winning plays.”
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