Teammates Rave About Rob Williams, Despite His Claim of Costly Mistake

Rob Williams was devoid of energy following a personal, late-game mistake that cost the Boston Celtics a win Sunday night in Indiana.

He should instead be taking note of the fact that the Celtics wouldn’t have even been in position for that victory had Williams not thrust them back into contention with his energy prior to that brief defensive mishap.

Williams, who returned Sunday night from a one-game absence due to an illness, put forth a brilliant performance for Boston that symbolized what the team wants and needs him to be: an energizer bunny who flies high at both ends of the court and affects the game with his effort, his length and his athleticism.

Williams played that role to perfection Sunday night while canning six of his seven shot attempts and logging a new career high with four steals to go along with two blocked shots.

“He played hard,” Brad Stevens said of the bouncy, third-year big man. “He played really hard.”

Boston needed every ounce of that effort during the second half of a game that featured little of it from the rest of the Celtics. They allowed Indiana to score 39 points on 75 percent shooting during the third quarter alone, which put Boston in an 11-point hole late in the period.

“Anytime you give up 40 on the road in a quarter to a good team, you’re probably gonna lose,” said Stevens. “To our guys’ credit, they hung in there and got back in the game, but Rob was one of the reasons why, because he brought a great deal of energy to the table.”

It was on full display during a late-game play that nearly provided the Celtics with their second victory of the season.

Indiana came out of a timeout owning a one-point lead with 18.2 seconds left in the contest. The Celtics would need to either foul on the ensuing inbound play and send Indiana to the line for two free throws, or force a surprising turnover.

They accomplished the latter, thanks in large part to Williams.

Williams was assigned to be the defender on the inbound pass, which placed him in perfect position to swarm T.J. Warren once he caught the pass. Warren caught the ball and immediately faced away from the defense, which allowed Williams to dart over and join forces with teammate Jaylen Brown for a trap on Warren.

Warren never saw Williams coming before the big man swiped at the ball and forced it out of Warren’s hand, all before simultaneously saving it from going out of bounds and tipping it ahead to Marcus Smart for a reverse layup that gave Boston a 107-106 lead with 11.8 seconds left in the game.

Brian Scalabrine, the color commentator for the Celtics, described the play afterward on the NBC Sports Boston broadcast by saying of Williams, “Great activity!”

Boston sought more of that activity just moments later while attempting to maintain the lead it had just gained. Yet again, Indiana was inbounding from the frontcourt sideline, but this time, Williams didn’t have an answer.

Indiana’s All-Star big man, Domantas Sabonis, caught the inbound pass on the left wing in front Williams, who was his primary defender. Sabonis faked a hand-off to the inbounder, Justin Holiday, and that fake froze Williams and his teammate in the defensive action, Grant Williams, just long enough to open up a driving lane for Sabonis.

Sabonis put his head down and barreled his way to the basket for a bucket and a foul on the recovering Williams to give Indiana a 108-107 lead, which stood as the final score at the end of the night. That play, and his moment of brief miscommunication and confusion, stood out above all the rest for Williams following his outstanding performance.

“We messed up the defensive coverage, so really, throw that other stuff out the window,” he said. “I was brought in the game to bring the energy, so that’s what I was trying to do. But like I said, we messed up the coverage – me personally, I messed up the coverage.”

There was no mistaking after the game that Williams was struggling to cope with his mistake. There was no energy in his voice. Just frustration.

The opposite can be said of the other members of the team who spoke about Williams following the contest. They looked past that singular moment and instead focused on the overall impact Williams made on the game and can make on this team.

“Just his activity, especially on the defensive end, and he’s such a great passer,” Jayson Tatum, who missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer, said of Williams. “He’s so long and active, getting blocks, he’s contesting shots. Rob has really come a long way, and he’s worked so hard, and he’s going to be a big part of our success this season.”

Added Jaylen Brown, “He’s extremely important, and he does a really good job, and he’s always usually in the right spot.”

That last defensive possession just happened to be one exception to that trend. And that’s OK. Mistakes are going to happen, no matter how hard one plays.

Williams should recognize that fact and quickly move past any nightmares of his defensive lapse. He should rest easy knowing that his energy, effort and impact are what gave the team a chance at a win in the first place.

The Celtics will be looking for more of the same from him as the rest of this season unfolds, beginning Tuesday night with a rematch against these very same Pacers.

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