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Robert Williams becoming a fascinating piece of Celtics puzzle

Josue Pavon
December 15, 2018 - 10:29 am

From the moment the Sixers selected Landry Shamet with the No. 26 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Celtics felt they had a late first-round steal.

Danny Ainge didn't expect the 6-foot-10 product of Texas A&M to be available for him at No. 27. He thought Robert Williams would be off the board by then -- which made picking the shot-blocking big man a no-brainer for the Celtics brass.

"We're excited about Robert and felt like he was the best player available and feel like he's a great fit for our team," Ainge told reporters moments after making the pick. 

With Al Horford and Guerschon Yabusele on the shelf and Aron Baynes on a minutes-restriction, Williams clocked in another 10-plus minute performance Friday night against the Hawks. He made the most of his 16 minutes when he pulled down five rebounds and finished with five blocks but the potential Williams possess is what makes him easily one of the most fascinating pieces of the Celtics' 2018-19 season.

"He's a rim-protector and a rebounder, and he can play above the rim on both ends of the court," Ainge added back on draft night. "We don't have much of that."

Brad Stevens has almost never had someone like that -- a rim protecting big who can stack up blocked shots, run the floor and finish around the rim. The Celtics rookie brings a particular energy to the floor, one that resonates throughout his teammates, a difference-maker with limited time on the floor and a big man who fans hope doesn't turn into the second coming of  Greg Stiemsma.

This is a great time for the Celtics to throw their rookie a bone while Horford takes his time nursing a patellar tendinitis injury. As the elder statesman of a team with championship aspirations, preserving Horford now makes sense and we aren't seeing any drop-off from the Celtics throughout their relatively light schedule.

Throughout the past three games, Williams is averaging 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 13.3 minutes a night. 

The Celtics (18-10) added another game into the win column in a 128-108 win over the Hawks at TD Garden on Friday, stretching their winning streak to eight straight. Boston's 129 points marks the sixth time over the last eight games the Celtics have reached the 120-point mark while averaging 125.4 points per game throughout this eight-game stretch. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' win, click here.)

However, for Brad Stevens-led teams, winning typically starts and ends on the defensive side of things and if Williams can carve out a specific role down the road for the Celtics -- a team that will need all the defensive firepower they can get throughout what's expected to be a deep playoff run -- it would a tremendous difference.

"I think our identity is on the defensive end," Kyrie Irving said after Friday's win. "I think that we have the ability to switch kind of one through five at times and we try to keep the teams out of the paint and make them take tough shots down the stretch. We extended our defense up at the top of the key so teams are running their offense (with) 15, 14 on the clock so we just try to pressure them and then use that to our advantage and create opportunities on the offense."

The Celtics held the Hawks to a 42.1 percent shooting clip while forcing them to commit a whopping 24 turnovers that turned into 42 points. Williams' loud defensive stops was a glimpse of what could be the norm down the stretch to give Boston its strength in the paint to prevent inside scoring and force opponents to beat them from the perimeter.

Boston is rolling right now. The defense is translating into offense, the rookie is developing quicker than most anticipated and don't look now but the .500 team that sat in the lower half of the Eastern Conference just over two weeks ago, is now only trailing the conference-leading Raptors by only 3.5 games.

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