BOSTON – Robert Williams won over the hearts of Boston Celtics fans Sunday night in his first career appearance at TD Garden by sealing a 115-112 preseason win over the Charlotte Hornets with a game-saving block. But it was the rookie’s action following the swat that won over the hearts of his teammates.
With his Celtics on top 113-112 and with less than 20 seconds left to play, Williams switched out onto the perimeter to contest a potential game-winning 3-pointer by Hornets guard Malik Monk. Using all of his 7-foot-6 wingspan, Williams tipped the attempt, causing it to fall short of the basket and into the hands of fellow rookie Brad Wanamaker.
The athletic defensive play brought Celtics fans to their feet, yet the most intriguing part of the sequence was still to come. Wanamaker took two dribbles and passed the ball off to Williams, who had a wide-open lane to the cup. However, instead of rewarding himself for the previous play with an emphatic dunk, the 6-foot-9 big man dished the rock off to Guerschon Yabusele, who laid in the final bucket of the game with ease.
Most 20-year-old rookies in this type of situation would have soaked in the limelight and thrown the ball down with authority. Such was not the case for Williams on this occasion, and the unselfish decision caught the eye of his veteran teammates.
“Those little things right there show you how well he fits in the mold of being a Boston Celtic,” said Kyrie Irving, who scored a team-high 20 points. “He makes the huge play and then passes to Guersch when he could’ve easily wind-milled or done something crazy for the crowd. But he passes to Guersch, we seal the game, and I know that felt good for him and for the rest of us.”
It also felt good for Williams to be able to show off his versatility on the defensive end. His ability to switch out to the perimeter and defend a guard like he did on the last play is an invaluable trait to have, and one that he has been developing over the past year or so.
“Toward the end of college, I started switching a little bit more, so I’m sort of used to it,” said Williams, who logged five points and a team-high plus-13 rating during 10 minutes of play. “It’s just something you’ve gotta be prepared to do. Coach (Brad Stevens) said that in a timeout, he told us, ‘Hey, 1 through 5, we’re switching now,’ so you’ve just gotta be mentally ready for something like that.”
Mentally speaking, it appears as though Williams' mind has been in the right place through the first five days of the preseason. His coaches and teammates have all lauded his work ethic and believe it shows signs of him having a bright future in the NBA.
“His effort level all the way through, everything he’s done since he’s been here, has been really good,” said Stevens. “I thought he got tired (Sunday night) and missed the opportunity to run the floor a couple of times, but he’s trying and we’re excited about the way he’s making progress. You can tell that there’s a lot there, potentially.”
Celtics fans are beginning to see that potential for themselves in Williams’ great display of length and athleticism. Meanwhile, his teammates are beginning to appreciate how his mental makeup could help impact the organization heading forward.
“You can see how long his arms are and how athletic he is as a young guy, but what has really interests me is how smart he is as a basketball player,” said Irving. “He just fits very well with our system.”
That bond will only continue to grow as Williams takes on his rookie season. And based on the strong impressions he’s made during Week 1, it appears as though he’s on the right track.
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