Grant Williams Comes Up Big at the 5 in Home-Opening Win

BOSTON – A challenge that Brad Stevens faced as he was game-planning for the Celtics’ home-opener Friday night was how he would manage his banged-up frontcourt against the talented bigs of the Toronto Raptors. With Enes Kanter out due to a knee injury, the C’s would need some extra strong bodies to bang with the likes of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka under the basket.

It sounded like the perfect job for Grant Williams.

At 6-foot-6, Williams doesn’t have the typical height of a center, but at 236 pounds, he certainly has the strength. So, Stevens picked up his phone Thursday and shot the rookie a quick text.

“You better know all of the 5 by tomorrow,” Stevens wrote.

To which Williams replied, “I got you, coach.”

Now, Williams is known to be a particularly studious player, but he didn’t feel the need to hit the books for this assignment. He already knew the center position well enough, and he was confident that he would be able to produce in the role.

“I’m comfortable doing it,” said Williams, who has experience playing all five positions. “It’s something I’ve done at (the University of) Tennessee, and before Tennessee, growing up. Being that little short guy that people don’t think is that tough, you kind of just get that competitiveness and that mentality of you’re just going to go out there and do whatever it takes and be that physical presence in the middle.”

Which is exactly what he was for the Celtics Friday night. Stevens turned to Williams early and often, and the rookie did not disappoint. He helped to stifle Toronto’s big men, while also doing a solid job of suppressing Raptors wing Pascal Siakam on the perimeter at times.

Not only did Williams fill in for Kanter at the 5, but he was also relied upon to help fill the void of Daniel Theis, who started the game but was limited to just 15 minutes after rolling his ankle during the second quarter. Williams wound up playing 22 minutes, during which he recorded four points, seven rebounds – including six on the offensive end – four assists and a steal. Largely thanks to his effort, the Celtics were able to pull off a 112-106 win over the defending champions.

“He gave us a big spark,” said teammate Jayson Tatum, who tallied 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists in the win. “With Enes out and Theis going down, Grant's undersized, but he is very smart and super strong and he is always at the right spot at the right time and he played hard. We needed it.”

As for how he’s able to match up with bigger bodies, Williams says it’s all in his approach.

“It's all about competing and all about playing with intensity and playing with pace and the heart and motor most guys play with at that position,” he explained. “Because you got to realize it’s a long 82 games of banging. You have to bring a different dimension, getting out of screens quick, getting off the glass and doing things like getting under guys and not allowing them to get easy position. Being physical. I was just prepared for that.”

Williams sure looked prepared for the role, as he helped the C’s hold onto their lead down the final stretch en route to the win. And his veteran teammates appreciated the effort he put forth.

“Rook came out and balled, man,” said Jaylen Brown, who logged the exact same stat line as Tatum. “He was physical. He took some charges. He did a lot of great stuff. A lot of winning plays. Stuff like that, it’s going to be hard not to put him on the floor. So if he can keep that up, that’s good for us.”

It will also be good for Stevens and the coaching staff to know that they have Williams’ versatility in their back pocket, which should allow them to slide him into many different roles this season.

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