It was actually almost too much for Terrence Williams to handle. Not only did Celtics coach Doc Rivers strongly suggest he play point guard in the next chapter of his NBA life, he told Williams to attack the basket like a fullback chasing a first down.
Williams hasn’t had such confidence instilled in him before. For years, he was a man without a position, an athletic 6-foot-6 inch defender who did not fit the mold of shooting guard or point guard.
But Rivers and the Celtics’ brass have an uncanny way of transforming castoffs into productive players. Williams, deemed untouchable at one time because of attitude problems, had been relegated to playing in China to continue his professional career, but he returned to the States for perhaps one last chance.
That’s been a coherent theme this season in Boston. Shavlik Randolph returned from the Chinese Basketball Association to seize his latest opportunity to stick with an NBA team. With Kevin Garnett resting his sore ankle, Rajon Rondo on the bench with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and Jared Sullinger playing Big Ten tournament scout while he recovers from back surgery, the Celtics have had to depend on players they would have never imagined would wear green when training camp broke.
Rivers has indoctrinated Williams and Randolph to the Celtic way of unselfish play, a limited level of freedom, and trust when it is warranted. In Friday’s 118-107 win over the Hawks at TD Garden, Williams and Randolph played key roles, a testament to Rivers’s growing affection for his two newcomers.
Williams had two key dunks in the Celtics’ 27-10 run that gave them the lead for good. The dunks thrilled the sold-out crowd and invigorated the Celtics’ bench, which cheered nearly every time a teammate scooped a loose ball or gathered a rebound.
Williams is not accustomed to this much trust. In his star-crossed career, he has been in situations where teammates were playing for contracts, trying to boost numbers. The support is foreign.
“It’s very easy, to be honest, when you come to a team that is known for winning,” he said. “I don’t want to say team’s names, but when you go to a losing team, it’s moreso self than the team and win. It’s a lot easier for me, and I hope the other guys, to come to a team that’s already established, guys that’s already paid. Losing teams, a lot of individuals just worry about the contracts. It was definitely an easy adjustment for me.”
Randolph enjoyed one of the best games of his career. He tied a career best with 13 rebounds and perhaps wrestled some minutes away from backup center Chris Wilcox, who has been drawing Rivers’s disdain for his lack of activity. That is not an issue for Randolph, who is quickly gaining admirers for his hustle and ability to come up with loose balls. Of his 13 rebounds Friday, seven were offensive.
There was a level of uncertainty about Randolph because he hasn’t played on such a big stage since his days at Duke University. But he has embraced the moment.
“I knew I was coming here to a playoff team, I knew what the situation was,” he said. “I’m not coming in here to a team that was tanking, that wants to develop guys for next year or anything. I was coming here in a situation where if they needed big men, I was going to have to be ready, and I have to be ready right now because KG is out for a while. The coaches have worked with me and I’ve paid attention and gotten better since I’ve been here, so it’s worked out for me.”
Wilcox was one of Randolph’s biggest cheerleaders. The Celtics are an unselfish bunch, if not injured and erratic. The egos have been left at the door because half the roster has come from other losing situations. They’re thrilled to be in the NBA spotlight as April approaches, not piling up numbers on a lottery-bound team.
“I think they are all kind of buying in,” Rivers said. “It’s a tough sell this late in the season, especially for new guys who are thinking about their careers. I think having the Paul [Pierces] and Kevins around help. It’s just nice that the new guys are buying into their role for this team. That’s really big.”
Williams signed a multiyear deal this month, the first time an NBA team has made a commitment to him. He was traded by the Nets, waived by the Rockets, unsigned by the Kings, and finally waived in training camp by the Pistons.
“I went from wherever I was at earlier in the year to maybe getting in for one minute and not playing for four games, and then playing 10 minutes, you just gotta stick with it,” Williams said. “I like the way [Rivers] coaches. He takes you down to gain your respect and to gain his trust in you and he just builds you up.
“It’s great to have security. It’s great to be with a program where I have vets and all they’re worried about is basketball and don’t come in here and be a cancer to the locker room, which I’m not. It’s definitely helpful to have some type of structure around me.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.