Brad Stevens’ Grim Options For Replacing Injured Celtics Center

Getty Images Boston Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge took a risk.

It was one that was deemed necessary and a step in the right direction at the NBA trade deadline. But, as Robert Williams’ toe injury continues to cast a dark cloud over Brad Stevens’ frontcourt, the Celtics head coach is quickly running out of options.

In their latest effort, the Celtics — losers of three of their last four outings — trailed the Miami Heat early before finding themselves on the wrong end of franchise history. The Heat’s 79 first-half points on their way to a 130-124 win were the second most points Miami’s ever scored before halftime.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens On Robert Williams’ Foot Injury: ‘We May Have To Sit Him’

Boston, yet again, attempted to crawl out of a whopping 20+ point deficit. This time, a 26-point hole was the comeback that fell short, and making matters worse was Williams being forced to sit throughout the second half due to turf toe; the foot injury that’s been bothering Rob since April.

“(He was) too uncomfortable to keep going,” Stevens said after Sunday’s loss. “It could be game-time decisions every day. We may have to sit him. I don’t know what the deal is right now. But, that’s obviously, something we’re going to have to manage because I think I played Tristian for about 15 straight minutes today in the second half.

“So, there are some challenges with that.”

When the Celtics sent their starting center in Daniel Theis along with small forward Javonte Green to the Chicago Bulls as part of a three-team swap with the Washington Wizards for centers Mo Wagner and Luke Kornet, it paved the way for Williams. Rob, the third-year center, was ready to take the reins and he didn’t disappoint.

Williams finished March averaging 10 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game, and proved to be a key cog on both ends of the floor. Rob’s presence and touches in the paint opened up scoring opportunities for Boston as the Celtics’ offense flowed seamlessly through the young big.

Brad Stevens’ Options Without Robert Williams

Now, it’s time for Brad to switch up the flow and go to small-ball. We’ve already seen the alternative options and the results — in long stints — were underwhelming.

With Williams out for the second half, Stevens inserted Kornet against the Heat — the backup center who’s shown promise as an ancillary piece that can stretch the floor with his shooting and has solid hands in the paint. Luke proved that to be true when he collected a tightly contested pass down low that he converted into a layup but on the opposite end of the floor; Kornet couldn’t hack it.

Heat All-Star Bam Adebayo has a way of exposing opposing defenders. Even Rob struggled in his bout against one of the best centers in the Eastern Conference, but with Williams out of the mix; Stevens has to start implementing Jabari Parker and Grant Williams more into the fold.

Celtics’ Grant Williams, Jabari Parker Viable Options For Brad Stevens

It’s not ideal, but in light of the Celtics’ current situation, going small with either Tristan Thompson or Grant at the center spot could pay dividends. Williams’ 3-point touch is crucial, now more than ever, however, so is his defense — which could be a force against Miami in a secondary role due to his ability to stay in front of smaller guards in pick-and-roll sets.

However, in transition, Grant has to keep up. The Heat will run Boston out of the gym if he’s unable to and if Stevens is looking for a little bit of extra scoring production, Parker isn’t a bad way to go.

Parker, who received a healthy-DNP against the Heat on Sunday, is a viable secondary scoring option. While he may be somewhat of a liability on the defensive end of the floor, Jabari is one of the few players Stevens has off his bench who is comfortable putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim when it’s needed.

A healthy balance of the two off the bench should be the plan against the Heat — who the Celtics must beat at TD Garden, Tuesday, to avoid the NBA Play-In Tournament.


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