Rob Williams Dazzles vs. Bucks in First Start of Season
The Boston Celtics are used to getting a jolt of energy from Robert Williams off the bench, but on Friday night in Milwaukee, they benefitted from his spark right from the get-go.
After dealing Daniel Theis to the Chicago Bulls ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, the C’s elevated Williams into the starting center spot for the first time all season, and he delivered in every area of the game.
Over the course of 27 minutes, the 23-year-old big man stuffed the stat sheet with seven points, nine rebounds, a career-high six assists, five blocks and two steals, while helping to lead Boston to a bounce-back, 122-114 victory over a Milwaukee team that had entered the night with eight straight wins under its belt.
"I feel like I did what I'm put out there to do,” Williams said after the game. “I feel like I generated a lot of energy for me and my teammates. That's my job.”
His job changed a little bit in his starting role in that the C’s didn’t have to depend on his scoring as much as they typically do when he comes off the bench. Instead, they asked him to act as more of a facilitator on the offensive end, which resulted in the best passing performance of his three-year career.
“He’s got to create a great synergy with the starters as far as getting them open and getting them the right looks and those types of things,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “I thought he did a great job tonight.”
Williams did a particularly great job in the first half, which was when he logged the majority of his stats: six rebounds, five assists, four blocks, and two steals. In the process, he became the first Celtics player in the last 25 seasons to log at least five assists and four blocks in a single half, and just the third NBA player in the last three seasons to accomplish such a feat, joining perennial MVP candidates Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic.
“I don't think it's the biggest surprise that scoring opportunities may not be there as much in the starting lineup just because you're playing against the best players,” said Stevens. “But I thought he did a great job impacting the game with his rebounding and his passing, and he certainly is a threat down there at the rim.”
Williams’ presence at the rim played a large part in limiting Giannis Antetokounmpo’s scoring production, as the two-time defending league MVP was limited to 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting. In fact, no Bucks player managed to eclipse the 20-point mark, which is quite unusual coming from the highest-scoring team in the NBA.
Boston’s defense was at its best when Williams was on the floor, as it outscored the Bucks by 19 points during his 27 minutes of action. In contrast, the C’s were outscored by 11 points during his 21 minutes on the sideline.
For that reason, it was difficult to take him out of the game, but that didn’t bother the eager youngster.
“I felt good playing more minutes, knowing that my team needed me out there,” Williams said. “The opportunity came, and I’m grateful for it and thankful for it.”
The good news for Williams is that the team is going to need a lot more of him moving forward. And if he keeps making an impact like he did Friday night, it’s going to be difficult to keep him out of that starting rotation.