Early in the fourth quarter of the Celtics’ 118-112 win over the Pacers on Friday night, center Robert Williams missed a short shot in the paint. There were three Indiana players between him and the basket, and it would have been easy to cede, get back on defense, and try again next time.
But Williams crashed toward the basket, rose above everyone else, grabbed the missed shot, and put it in, helping to extend Boston’s lead to 8 points before it went on to grab a much-needed victory.
Williams finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots in just 22 minutes, as he continues to emerge as an essential part of Boston’s present and future.
“Robert gave us certainly what he’s capable of giving,” coach Brad Stevens said afterward. “We don’t need that scoring every single night, but we need the way that they played every night.”
Williams missed most of last season because of a hip bone edema and he has experienced some lingering pain this season, so Stevens said the team will continue to monitor and limit his minutes. But he has been called upon in critical junctures, and that is not lost on him.
“Obviously, it’s a big upside for me, knowing that they trust me and believe in me,” Williams said. “Most of all, they are letting me know that they need me in those situations. That boosts my confidence even more.”
Getting their rest
Kemba Walker’s four highest-scoring games this season have come after he sat out the end of a back-to-back set. He scored a season-high 32 points on Friday, and Stevens said it was clear that extra rest has led to improved play.
While Walker’s reduced workload is tied to managing his left knee, his powerful offensive nights when well-rested could make the Celtics consider giving other players occasional days off on back-to-backs during this unusually condensed 72-game season.
“We’ve had a lot of these conversations about the right way to approach the intensity of the schedule,” Stevens said. “We’ve been in a really tough spot from a standpoint of you’re always missing somebody right now. When Kemba’s sitting the second night of back-to-backs now, you’re missing two of your four best players [Marcus Smart is out with a calf strain]. And so that has presented some challenges and some uniqueness, but I think we all have to be alert to that.”
Jayson Tatum seems most likely to benefit from a breather or two during the second half of the season. He is just 8 for 38 over his last two games, dropping to a career-low 43.2 percent shooting for the season. It is the lowest percentage among the NBA’s top 15 scorers. Also, he battled COVID-19 last month and has said that there have been lingering respiratory effects.
Walker, meanwhile, has not dealt with any knee issues this season. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge said that he believes Walker does appear healthy enough to play in some back-to-backs later in the season.
“But the question is do we want him to, or do we want to keep him fresh?” Ainge said. “So I don’t know the answer to that yet.”
The Celtics fully guaranteed Javonte Green’s $1.5 million contract for the rest of this season prior to the Wednesday evening deadline. Green is averaging 4.6 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the field.
“He’s been a good player for us, last year and this year,” Ainge said. “He’s been a great teammate. His teammates love him, his coaches love him, and it’s a reward for a guy that’s doing everything right and is always ready to play. He doesn’t play for a couple of games and then comes in and makes an impact for the next game. He’s everything we’re about.”