At 4:29 of the fourth quarter against the Indiana Pacers Sunday night, Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens decided he needed to shake things up in his frontcourt and pulled starter Tristan Thompson from the floor in exchange for back-up center Robert Williams.
On his second defensive possession, Williams stole the ball in the backcourt off an inbound pass from Pacers point guard Justin Holiday and slammed in a game-tying dunk (100) just before the 4-minute mark of the final frame. Robert followed that up by leading the Celtics to a pair of defensive stops, including blocking Brogdan’s attempted layup (105-103) down the stretch – which would have made it a two-possession game.
Brad Stevens On Robert Williams, Celtics Second-Half Comeback: “They Hung In There And Got Back In The Game But Rob Was One Of The Reasons Why’
With less than one minute left in the game, Stevens made up his mind to stick with Williams while starters Thompson and Daniel Theis looked on from the Celtics’ bench.
“He played hard, he played really hard,” Stevens said after Sunday’s 108-107 loss. “Obviously, we were very low-energy in the third quarter and that cost us the game. Anytime you give up 40 in a quarter on the road to a good team, you’re probably going to lose. To our guys’ credit, they hung in there and got back in the game.
“But Rob was one of the reasons why because he brought a great deal of energy to the table.”
Williams certainly played a role in stopping the bleeding that was a 39-point offensive eruption from the Pacers, led by point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who tallied 15 second-half points. Rob pulled down offensive rebounds for second-chance opportunities, went 2-for-2 on back-to-back made field goals.
Brad Stevens On Rob Williams Vs. Pacers: ‘I Just Thought Rob Was Our Best Big Tonight’
What was once an 11-point advantage – the Pacers’ biggest lead of the night – dwindled as the Celtics trailed by eight (88-83) heading into the fourth quarter. Stevens made a mental note.
“I just thought Rob was our best big tonight. I thought that was pretty clear, right?” Stevens asked. “He played with great energy, he played super hard, did everything well. I thought when Tristan came back in in the fourth he had a bunch of good possessions there.
“So, we’re going to rotate guys and, obviously, when we’re struggling, we’ve got to find the right mix.”
For Williams, he’s been itching for this opportunity – meaningful, consistent playing time; a concrete spot in Stevens’ rotation. He plans to become a stable option, this season.
However, after it was set in stone that Brad was going to stick with Rob the rest of the way, the Pacers capitalized.
Indiana’s new head coach Nate Bjorkgren drew up a play out of a timeout for All-Star Domantas Sabonis where Sabonis received the inbound pass by the left elbow, faked a hand-off pass to Justin Holiday before Sabonis flew past Celtics’ Grant Williams.
Still, Williams leaves Holiday just in time to blitz Sabonis at the rim. But Domantas absorbs contact from Robert, stuck with the shot, and converted the layup while drawing the foul on Williams.
The scored bucket pushed the Pacers up one, 108-107 – where it remained following Jayson Tatum’s potential game-winning 3-pointer.
“I feel like, at the end of the day, we didn’t stop them when we were supposed to,” Williams. “We messed up the defensive coverage.”
Williams, who clocked 21:34 in Sunday night’s loss – which nearly topped one starter in Thompson (22:17) and kept another in Theis (14:56) on the bench for most of the second half – will get a second crack at the Pacers in Indianapolis Tuesday when the Celtics take on the Pacers in an away-and-away re-match.