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BOSTON – Time stopped, and the age-old question of wherefore art thou Romeo was answered.
Wednesday night sure was a doozy for the Boston Celtics.
Not only did Boston dominate the Brooklyn Nets to the tune of a 149-115 victory, but they did so while being sparked and led by two of their most obscure players: Rob Williams and Romeo Langford.
Williams, better known to much of Celtics Nation as Time Lord, posted a career-best 18 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting performance from the field. He also hauled in five rebounds and swatted a game-high three shots while protecting the rim.
Meanwhile, Romeo Langford, a rookie wing for whom much of Celtics Nation holds a deep fascination, served as Boston’s defensive sparkplug. He was the first player off of Boston’s bench and he immediately ignited the team’s defensive effort upon checking in midway through the first quarter. The Celtics wound up outscoring Brooklyn by 27 points during his nearly 26 minutes of action.
Williams hadn’t played a minute during the first three seeding games. Langford had only played four. Wednesday served as a reminder that these two players, each of whom have been out of Boston’s lineup and rotation for most of the season, are capable of making an impact moving forward.
“Romeo’s defense was excellent,” Brad Stevens said after the contest. “Rob, obviously, gave us a lot once he got settled in defensively, and then offensively, he gave us a lot at the rim all day.”
Let’s start with the defense from these two talented youngsters.
Williams has always been known as a shot-blocker, but Wednesday night he proved that he is capable of defending small-ball lineups as well. Some of his early minutes in the game were played against a Nets lineup that did not feature a player who is officially considered a power forward or a center. Instead, that lineup utilized small forward Rodions Kurucs, a 6-foot-9 shooter, at the center position.
“They went small,” said Stevens, “so it was a unique situation for him with some of the matchups guarding Kurucs that he had. But he adjusted to that well after a few possessions.”
Williams hasn’t been asked to defend that type of matchup very often during his young NBA career. The fact that he adjusted and did so at a high level Wednesday night is critical evidence for the Celtics to have witnessed. They need their centers to be diverse defenders, and Williams proved that he is capable of being one.
“Just to be able to come in and if they’re small, and we need to be switching, if we need to be guarding certain coverages, if we need to be blitzing,” Stevens said of what he needs from Williams. “Just being ready for anything they throw at you.”
Langford, meanwhile, has been an impressive perimeter defender since the moment he joined the Celtics last summer. His performance Wednesday night did nothing but strengthen that reputation.
The 20-year-old rookie boosted Boston’s defense the second he checked into the game. He used his lateral agility to stay in front of his men. He was in position on his rotations. He blocked multiple shots. He forced multiple misses.
All-in-all, he continued to showcase the wide array of defensive abilities that had earned him a role before the NBA went on hold in mid-March.
“I thought he was giving us good minutes right before the hiatus,” Stevens said of Langford. “He’s a good worker. He’s one of our more solid defenders, and that’s gonna give him a chance to play, especially the way we played the first couple of weeks.”
Wednesday night was the first time inside the bubble that the Celtics looked like themselves defensively. Langford and Williams were big reasons why, which will surely earn them consideration for minutes once the postseason arrives.
At the other end of the floor, Williams was a machine, while Langford took more of a back seat.
Williams is undoubtedly Boston’s most dangerous presence at the rim. He is only listed at 6-foot-8, but his length and athleticism applies immediate pressure to the defense when he rolls or cuts to the rim.
Wednesday was a great example of that pressure, as he scored six baskets at the rim, including five dunks. Boston converted three lobs to him at the rim, including two for alley-oop dunks. Williams also showcased an eyebrow-raising skill that’s been developing behind the scenes: a midrange jumper.
Late in the fourth quarter, he floated to the top of the key while Carsen Edwards drove down the right side of the lane. Edwards drew two defenders and kicked the ball to an open Williams, who promptly swished home a high school 3-pointer from 20 feet away.
To put that into perspective: that was the first shot Williams had ever attempted as a pro from outside of 18 feet. And he canned it with no hesitation.
“I’ve worked on that a lot,” he said of the jumper. “My teammates see me working on it. They’re telling me to shoot it. That’s obviously a confidence booster.”
Wednesday’s victory over Brooklyn was a confidence booster for the Celtics as a whole. Not only did they dominate the Nets, but every player who checked into the game contributed to the win.
Williams and Langford led the charge to give Stevens more to think about when it comes to his future rotations. That’s a sentence no one expected to come into existence before Wednesday’s opening tip.