PHILADELPHIA — With his team facing elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the 76ers, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla on Thursday night shook up his starting lineup a bit, inserting center Robert Williams in place of guard Derrick White.
“Just gives us a different look,” Mazzulla said before the Celtics’ 95-86 win. “I think at his best Rob gives us a lift, especially on the defensive end. So, just looking for that … Just his presence at the rim, his ability to guard on the perimeter and rebound and screen for us. I think those things he’s really been good for us throughout the year.”
Williams missed the first 29 games after undergoing offseason knee surgery, came off the bench when he returned, and then had a two-month stint as a starter before he was sidelined by a hamstring strain. He had mostly come off the bench since returning from that injury March 21.
Last season, the starting lineup consisting of Williams, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart was dominant, outscoring opponents by 24.6 points per 100 possessions over 443 total minutes. The group was used sparingly this season, though, and did not have the same success rate, registering a minus-12.4 net rating in 88 minutes.
76ers coach Doc Rivers said before the game that he was unsurprised by the switch, adding that he’d expected the Celtics to make this adjustment during Game 5 on Tuesday.
Williams played 28 minutes in Game 6, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Celtics forward Grant Williams on Thursday finished 10th in the voting for the NBA Teammate of the Year.
The award, which was won by Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, recognizes the player deemed the best teammate based on selfless leadership, as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and commitment and dedication to team. A panel of league executives selected a group of finalists, and then more than 400 players took part in the voting.
Tatum has had some tough starts this series. Entering Game 6, he was 0 for 10 in the first quarter of the previous two games. Mazzulla remained confident in his star forward, however.
“I think it’s more about he’s not defined by his scoring,” Mazzulla said. “It’s obviously something we need him to do, but when he’s at his best he’s just playing well-rounded basketball. We’re just looking for that.”
Pritchard a possibility
Guard Payton Pritchard received his first meaningful minutes of the postseason in the Celtics’ Game 5 loss. He didn’t take a shot during that five-minute stint but returned later when the game’s outcome was essentially decided and scored 8 points in nine minutes.
Mazzulla hinted that he might lean on the guard again during this series.
“I like his intensity,” Mazzulla said. “I like his energy. I like giving a different look. I thought he did some really good things for us, so if there’s an opportunity [in Game 6] I trust that he’ll be ready and kind of give us that lift that we want.”
Pritchard, however, did not play on Thursday night.
Read more about Celtics-76ers Game 6:
Celtics Notebook: Celtics shake up starting lineup for Game 6