BOSTON – As Robert Williams continues to earn more playing time for the Boston Celtics, one realization continues to grow clearer for Kyrie Irving: he loves playing alongside this rookie big man.
Williams has stepped up to the plate for an injury-plagued Celtics front court of late, providing phenomenal energy and effort for the C’s, all while beginning to establish strong chemistry with their All-Star point guard.
That bond grew even stronger against the Suns Wednesday night, after Aron Baynes exited with a hand injury. Baynes, who was later diagnosed with a fractured metacarpal in his left hand, joined Al Horford (sore left knee), Marcus Morris (sore right knee) and Guerschon Yabusele (sprained right ankle) on the lengthy list of injured Celtics big men, forcing coach Brad Stevens to count upon Williams for 24 minutes of play.
Although his Celtics would wind up losing to the Phoenix Suns, 111-103, Williams provided plenty of positivity at TD Garden, where he tallied eight points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots off the bench. He also shot a perfect 4-for-4 from the field, including a pair of dunks – one on an alley-oop and one following a dribble hand-off – that were both set up by his newest fan.
“I’ve played with quite a few bigs,” Irving noted after the game while describing his newfound relationship with Williams. “I had Timofey Mozgov and Tristan (Thompson) in Cleveland. When I was in college (at Duke), I had Mason and Miles Plumlee. So, having a consistent lob threat at the rim where you can throw it around the rim and he can go and get it… you can see how easy it is for me and Rob. When I’m going in and people are stepping up on me, he’s always a threat at the rim for offensive rebounds and lobs. So, I love playing with Rob.”
Most of the praise that Williams has received this season has been directed toward his rim-protecting ability, so having his offensive contributions lauded by one of the best playmakers in the NBA is quite a promising sign toward his growth as a two-way player.
With that being said, Williams still has much work to do on the offensive end of the court, as he continues to grow more comfortable within the Celtics’ system.
Coach Brad Stevens noted a few instances from Wednesday night’s game where Williams may have been a bit tentative while the C's were on the attack, but Stevens believes that the 21-year-old will eventually gain confidence and be able to deliver more consistently.
“I thought that he had some opportunities on offense that he’ll make plays with when he gets a little more used to the game and used to playing with those other guys,” said the coach. “[The Suns] were not paying a whole lot of attention to him on the perimeter and in the seams, and those are plays that he can make on that end of the floor.”
While Williams has to get used to playing with his teammates, they also have to grow accustomed to playing with him. That includes being prepared to grab loose balls and rebounds while he’s roaming the paint, blocking shots like a fly swatter.
“Us as guards, when we’re missing guys, we have to help Rob rebound as well,” said Irving, who logged 29 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and four steals against the Suns. “He’s contesting and trying to go for every block, and our weak side crashing in and helping him out is just as important as him going for the rebound. That’s part of being on a team where we all have to cover each other.”
Just like how Williams will have to help cover for Baynes, now that the veteran big man will be sidelined for an extended period of time.
“It’s terrible,” Williams said of Baynes’ broken hand. “Everybody wants and needs a Baynes on their team. But we’ve just gotta step up – next man up.”
Irving firmly believes that Rob is the right man for the job.
“He does a lot of great things already,” Irving said. “So, I think the sky is the limit for his potential and what he brings to our team.”
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