Battling through a lingering turf toe injury that has affected him for much of the past month, Robert Williams rose to the occasion in the Boston Celtics‘ Game 1 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday.
Despite his availability being in question mere days before tipoff, the 23-year-old defensive menace put on a show in the Barclays Center. In 23 minutes of play, the Celtics big man nearly notched himself a triple-double, amassing 11 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks on the night. The latter set a new Celtics playoff record, surpassing Kendrick Perkins and Robert Parish, each of whom previously topped the list with seven blocks apiece.
Yet, for all the brilliance Williams put forth on the defensive end, it wasn’t enough to help his team keep pace with Brooklyn. Outscoring the Celtics by 17 points in the second half, the Nets came away with the win, taking the series lead with a 104-93 point victory.
“It don’t mean s*** if we’re losing,” Wiliams said of his historic night following the game.
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Kyrie Irving Shares Strong Praise for Williams
While his performance may not ‘mean s***’ to him or his Celtics in the grand scheme of things, Williams’ showing was enough to garner the attention of Nets star Kyrie Irving.
“He’s shifting over every single time on every one of our drives,” Irving said of his former Celtics teammate. “His timing is amazing. It’s great to see a big that’s active in our game, and he challenges you at the rim every single time. So it’s just gonna test our IQ for the rest of these games.”
It’s evident after Williams’ record-setting night that the big man is very much on Brooklyn’s radar and will likely lead to an alteration in the team’s offensive approach in the paint.
“We gotta play these guys multiple times,” Williams said of the Nets. “They pick up on stuff as well as we pick up on stuff. Sometimes you gotta adjust.”
Brad Stevens Talks Celtics Defense
As we noted above, a second-half surge by Brooklyn is what ultimately set the Nets apart in Game 1. Yet, throughout the first 24 minutes of regulation, the Celtics mostly did their part defensively to keep pace with Brooklyn. Boston entered the half with a 53-47 lead, quite a respective showing for a middle-of-the-pack defense (111.8 defensive rating, 13th in NBA) against one of the league’s premier offensive units.
“I think the biggest key today, we held them to 104, and I know they missed some opportunities, but our guys really guarded,” head coach Brad Stevens said. “I think that what we said all week was, scoring in the 90s isn’t going to be good enough. And we’ve gotta do a better job of attacking them with all the switching and being a little bit more purposeful than that … But our fight was right, our competitiveness was right, our focus defensively was right for the most part.”
Irving proved to be Brooklyn’s most efficient performer on Saturday — a fairly common occurrence for the seven-time All-Star this season. Connecting on 11-of-22 of his shots from the field (55.0%), Irving was the lone Nets starter to shoot above 40% on the night. Yet, with Kevin Durant and James Harden capable of unleashing their elite offensive prowess at any moment, the Celtics will need to put forth much more than just 24 minutes of quality defense if they hope to keep the series competitive.