It’s been a tough stretch for Grant Williams, the Celtics frontcourt swiss army knife who received his first DNP-Coach’s Decision in nearly two years last week against Cleveland. He followed that by missing two critical free throws that would have given the Celtics the win in a rematch in Cleveland. On Wednesday, Williams didn’t appear until the beginning of the fourth quarter, when the Celtics were leading by 22 points.
He played all 12 minutes of the final period against the Trail Blazers, making 3 of 8 shots and missing his lone free throw attempt. A few months ago, Williams was soaring in his contract season, playing well enough to make the Celtics regret refraining from signing him to an extension last summer.
Williams is now just trying to earn more minutes, trying to regain his status as a valuable reserve who can consistently knock down the 3-pointer and play strong defense. Coach Joe Mazzulla said Williams’s absence from games and from the second unit is about matchups.
Nobody is saying what is wrong with Williams, but something definitely isn’t right. And one of the more approachable, pleasant and loquacious players in the NBA has to figure out how to get his swagger back.
“For me, it’s about maintaining perspective in life,” Williams said. “That’s the only way you can keep your head in this league. You can’t focus on anything else around you. You have to focus on the day to day. That’s the approach that I’ve had and that’s the approach I’ll continue to have.”
Williams was stellar in the first 2½ months of the season, shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from the 3-point line through Dec. 31. Since Jan. 1, Williams has made just 38.5 percent of his field goal attempts and 35.7 from the 3-point line.
“Just time,” Mazzulla said when asked the remedy for Williams’s slump. “He does a good job of working through things. Just time. He’ll be fine.”
But there is a sense of urgency with Williams. He was an integral part of the Celtics owning the league’s best record for months before yielding to the Bucks. With 15 games left in the regular season, Williams’s decline is not good for the Celtics. They can win without him but a productive Williams makes the Celtics that much better.
The two missed free throws against the Cavaliers was the most painful example of his slump. He was shooting 84.8 percent from the free throw line prior to February. Since then, he’s at 67.8 percent.
Considering his free throw percentage history, the two misses were shocking and perhaps a sign of nerves after Donovan Mitchell talked trash and then Williams responded by guaranteeing he’d hit both. Williams wasn’t present when the media was allowed into Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse after the Cleveland game, but he spoke prior to and after the Portland game.
“You just keep shooting them,” Williams said. “I’m confident enough in my free throw shooting. You miss one, it doesn’t make a difference in terms of how you view your shot itself. Just go out there and continue to shoot. I think I’ve shot 80-plus in my career. Even that’s low for my standards. So just go out there and continue to shoot them with confidence.”
Williams maintains the utmost confidence. Nothing is going to damper his fun-loving, amicable personality.
“For me it’s about coming in and doing the work, even throughout the season, whether you have ups, down, whatever you consider an up-and-down season,” he said. “You can’t control if you’re playing. You can’t control your opinion on things, you’ve got to focus on the ultimate goal which is winning and trying your best of maintaining that perspective.
“You’ve got to go out there and play the role you’re asked to play. And when you’re called upon to defend those big guys and help … win a playoff series, that’s what you do because that’s your job.”
Williams said he won’t lose his competitive edge or relent to his demotion. He wants to be that difference-making player that can grab the key offensive rebound or knock down the corner three to relieve pressure off Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
“I’m always a guy that’s going to be tough and a dog out there,” he said. “Sometimes dogs get a muzzle put on them and then when they’re released (they come back stronger). That’s kind of how I approach it. Whenever you’re asked to go (play), you attack.
“I haven’t lost confidence in my shot throughout the whole season. I’m not asked to go out there and get 20 points a night. One of the parts of my role is just being readily available for what the team needs at that moment. You have to embrace that and move forward.”