It sometimes seems as if Celtics center Robert Williams has pogo sticks for legs. On a basketball court that is generally filled with tall, athletic, and high-flying players, Williams has a rare ability to soar above most of the others.
It was no surprise, then, that Williams was among the NBA’s top 10 offensive rebounders over his first nine games of this season, averaging 3.6 per contest. But coach Ime Udoka believed there was room for more.
This week he approached the athletic big man and challenged him to be relentless. He showed Williams some clips from this season and emphasized ways he could be making more of an impact, particularly as a weak-side dunker.
The Celtics have talented wings in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and defenses will spend most of a possession trying to account for them. And that will continue to create opportunities for Williams.
“Now, he is really working to make guys pay,” Udoka said. “We’ve got guys going to the basket. Most teams in the league are over-helping, shifting, and he can just clean up on the weak side. So, something he has taken to heart and he’s done a great job at.”
On Wednesday night, Williams registered a season-high eight offensive rebounds in the Celtics’ 104-88 win over the Raptors at TD Garden. He finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds overall.
“I just noticed our team was lacking that on both sides, offensively and defensively,” Williams said. “Just a different energy and physicality from the last time we played Toronto. They tore us up on the boards, so I tried to carry over all this energy.”
On Oct. 22, the Raptors pummeled the Celtics on the backboards and stormed to a 115-83 win in Boston. Williams said that embarrassing result irritated him that night and motivated him Wednesday. Toronto had 21 offensive rebounds in the first meeting but mustered just six in this game. And Williams played a significant role in silencing the Raptors.
He was a nuisance at the other end of the floor, too, consistently putting himself in position to gobble up the missed shots of his teammates.
Sometimes, offensive rebounds simply provide an extra possession that ends with another miss. But Williams made sure that his second chances would be productive. He scored after each of his first four offensive boards.
“It was all aggressiveness,” Williams said. “And, to be honest, I felt like us as a team, not just me, did a great job rebounding. We did a great job with physicality. We knew we were lacking that, so we did a great job stepping that up.”
Williams’s first big play came in the game’s opening minute, when he lurked on the weak side and surged in for a follow slam when Al Horford’s midrange jumper went long. A few possessions later, he put himself in good position with a strong box-out and converted an acrobatic tip-in.
Later in the first quarter, he used his length to simply reach over his defender and put back a Romeo Langford miss, and then he added an emphatic follow-slam after a missed runner by Langford. Midway through the second quarter, four Williams offensive rebounds had resulted in 8 Celtics points. The tone for the night had been set.
Williams is now averaging 4.1 offensive rebounds per contest, second only to Spurs big man Jakob Poeltl. Celtics guard Marcus Smart, for one, believes this is just the beginning.
“Rob still has a lot more to give, and we know that,” Smart said. “We love it. He’s finally stepping into his own and we’re excited for him. He’s excited to continue to progress and keep going and only help himself and better this team. So we love everything Rob’s doing.”