Game Four Preview: How Will Brad Stevens Use Robert Williams?

by Matt Esposito

Everyone has a friend they never get mad at. But then one day he or she reveals they are meeting your crush at the local Dairy Queen, and you have your first fight. I caught Brad Stevens ordering a a cookie dough Blizzard last night, and it had two spoons in it. Why was I upset with one of my favorite coaches?

Robert Williams entered last night’s game around the four minute mark in the first quarter. His impact was felt immediately. Typically with Timelord, fans worry about missed defensive assignments. But this time was different. Not only did RWIII alter the Raptor’s offensive flow but, he created scoring chances for others due to his gravity and passing. Some videos help highlight his positive effect.

Rim Protection

This series, Doris Burke has occasionally pinpointed William’s defensive reverberations. Opponents reconsider their at-rim attempts when Williams is in the game; shots they would normally take if Daniel Theis or Enes Kanter is manning the five spot. Specifically, this resulted in some Raptors taking low value, midrange twos.

Above, William’s prowess as an athletic shot blocker deters Kyle Lowry from attacking the rim. Lowry had loads of success darting to the bucket against Theis, making William’s deterrence as impressive as it was important. If Stevens could pick one shot to surrender to the Toronto guard, it would be this particular two-pointer. This would not be Mr. Lowry’s first negative encounter with RWIII, however.

Here, the presence of Williams as a rim protector causes Lowry to travel. In real time you can witness Lowry rethink his eurostep due to a 6-foot-9 pogo stick running towards him. This would not be the only turnover Williams caused.

OG Anunoby – a name that psychosomatically causes regurgitation throughout Boston fandom – also had second thoughts about shooting in the paint. His hesitation led to a poorly executed, unexpected kickout pass that sailed out of bounds.

Yet, OG had reason to reconsider his shot attempt. It was only a couple possessions earlier when Williams reminded Anunoby that he possesses a pterodactylian wingspan. (I’m this close to a “Land Before Timelord” joke, don’t tempt me.)

Throughout the game there were several instances where Williams put the kibosh on Raptor’s paint attempts. Ensuing plays often resulted in turnovers, heavily contested 3-point shots, or turnovers. Regardless, limiting high percentage twos is a skill set Boston could have used more of last night, leading me to question if Timelord’s 14 minute deployment was too short. Additionally, his offensive play suggests he needs more minutes, too.

Gravity

Simply put, Williams can convert two-point attempts that other Celtics bigs cannot. Trust me, I’m a Theis-aholic, so this hurts. Nevertheless, Williams’ leaping ability provides dunk attempts that only he can finish. Just look at where he took off from to hammer home this jaw-dropping slam.

Fam…

Teams are aware of Williams’ athleticism and how Boston wants to utilize it on lobs, rolls and cuts. His vertical gravity is a unique threat and opens up chances for teammates. Watch Toronto defenders gravitate towards the paint because Timelord is there. Norman Powell abandons Grant Williams in the corner, surrendering an open shot in the process. These are the looks that Boston wants. They must convert them in Game Four.

This time, Brad Wanatravel Wanamaker was the recipient of a wide open opportunity. Credit Jaylen Brown for the pass, but this play is not possible without Williams drawing multiple defenders.

The greatest example of William’s gravity came on a play where Fred VanVleet committed to him. FVV should have toggled in between Williams and Semi Ojeleye. Instead, he stuck with Williams, even though Williams was in a tough position to score. Check out Timelord’s passing chops here as well.

More Than A Leaper

Speaking of passing…Boston could have used Williams to beat the many zone looks Toronto showed last night. His court vision is underrated still, and Williams can toss quality looks out of the short roll. The short roll area of the court is concurrently a weak spot for zones and one where Williams has success as a passer. Expect to see Stevens try and bust zones in Game Four by trusting his young big to occupy that role.

Williams can also punish Toronto as a screener. The Celtics experienced success running a high pick-and-roll with him yet, I was most impressed with a seal that he set during the end of the opening quarter. This is a staple for Celtic bigs; one Williams certainly learned by studying Daniel Theis.

What To Watch For

The Raptor’s zone defenses gave Boston just enough issues that Stevens will likely scheme a way to beat it. In addition to the free throw line area, the beatable parts of a zone come in the corners and dunker spot. Williams can’t shoot triples, but he sure can dunk and has shown the ability to pass from the heart of the zone.

Stevens shortly experimented with Kanter as a zonebuster but it produced undesirable results. Williams should soak up those minutes in Game Four. Do not be surprised to see a longer leash on him. Timelord’s particular impact on the game is what Boston needs to take a commanding 3-1 lead. Let’s see if Stevens gambles on the youthful center.

Bonus! Be sure to subscribe to our podcast, it would mean the world to me! You may dig this one with Blake Murphy of The Athletic. We went over the Raptors/Celtics series in some depth. Thanks!

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for Theplaygrounder.com and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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