Young Celtics Flash Promise Against Harden, Westbrook and the Rockets
BOSTON – Grant Williams led a youthful Celtics group Tuesday night that showed many flashes of promise against the Houston Rockets.
The scoreboard might not show it, but the tape certainly does.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens chose to rest seven of his top players – including all five starters – during the team’s final scrimmage game against James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Rockets. That decision led to Boston having only 10 active players, seven of whom are rookies, available for the contest.
“Six or seven rookies is a lot on one team, but for them to all get the chance to play extended minutes against players of this caliber and a team of that caliber,” said Stevens, “I thought that was a positive, even though we didn’t do everything well.”
Most of what Williams brought to the table was done well, as he compiled 15 points, a game-high nine rebounds, two assists, a steal and a blocked shot. Stevens pointed out after the game that Williams’ point total probably should have been even higher.
“We also missed him on some slips where he would have had layups or he would have had shots at the rim that he could have added to his day,” the coach said.
Williams finished tied with Semi Ojeleye for the best plus/minus rating on the team among players who logged more than 10 minutes of action. He logged a handful of impressive plays, including a driving behind-the-back pass to Javonte Green for a corner 3, and a smooth turnaround jumper from the right elbow over Danuel House. It was clear that his game had been sharpened in comparison to before the hiatus.
He stated after the game that ball handling, a critical skill in his development curve, was a concentration during the down time.
“When I was facing up, I needed to be more comfortable with the pressure, not only with guards, but also with other defenders,” he said. “So that’s basically what I worked on most of the hiatus.”
A handful of other young Celtics had promising moments as well. Romeo Langford defended at a high level and also attacked the basket en route to nine points. Carsen Edwards scored a team-high 19 points and posterized Harden and Westbrook on the same play. Robert Williams scored 12 points and made a pair of impressive reads and passes that led to Celtics points. Ojeleye showed that he is more adept at attacking the basket than some may have thought. Green scored 13 points and made all three of his 3-pointers.
Each one of those players got an opportunity to play extended minutes against two former league MVPs and a Rockets team that is in the conversation as a title contender.
“That’s the benefit of a night like tonight,” said Stevens.
So don’t pay attention to the scoreboard. It literally does not matter.
What matters is that many of Boston’s youngsters showed promising flashes Tuesday night, which may indicate that they’re more prepared to contribute to a playoff run than they were four-plus months ago.