Joe Mazzulla’s call to play Grant Williams pays dividends for Celtics

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If you could build the perfect playoff player in a lab, what would it look like?

Should be a good shooter, this is a must. You can’t play in the playoffs if you can’t shoot. And he should also be a good defender, ideally someone with the combination of size, skills and intelligence to guard multiple positions. You’d also like him to have a certain tenacity to his game, someone who exudes energy in a way that lifts those around him.

Grant Williams is not a perfect player. But he is a good one, someone who fits the categories mentioned above.

He drilled 39.5% of his 3-pointers during the regular season, after connecting on 41.1% of his deep looks the previous season. He’s a burly 6-foot-6 with quick feet and incredibly smart on the floor, making him one of the few players in the league truly capable of guarding points, wings and centers. He has playoff experience. And he plays with an excitement that, frankly, many of his Celtics teammates lack.

However, for reasons that remain unclear, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla had picked Williams for most of the team’s current playoff run. He did not play in three of the Celtics’ first-round games against the Atlanta Hawks. He received just 4:01 of playing time in Game 1 against the Sixers in the second round, just over eight minutes in Game 5, a DNP in Game 6 and just 3:23 in Game 7. He was again in the bench at the Game. 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.

Last week, Mazzulla was asked about Williams’ demotion. He basically ignored the question.

“Obviously in the playoffs, when the minutes go up, you’re looking to play seven or eight guys, which we’ve done throughout,” Mazzulla told reporters. “As we’ve said before, Grant is always going to be ready, and we’ve built a lot of versatility and depth into our lineup where we can go a lot of different ways. We’re confident that anybody we call up will be ready.”

Whatever the reason, it was clear Williams didn’t have Mazzulla’s trust. But it was also clear, as they were in the midst of being embarrassed by a Heat team that won 13 fewer games during the regular season, that if the Celtics were going to find a way to slow the Heat, it would be with Williams playing. a paper Sure, his trash talk late in Game 2 might have lit a spark under Jimmy Butler, but Williams was one of the few Celtics players to show any fight. The same thing happened in the second half of Game 3, in which Boston lost by 26.

In Game 4, facing elimination, and with an offseason of reckoning awaiting the entire organization, Mazzulla leaned on Williams more than he had all postseason, playing him 29 minutes, and Williams rewarded the decision. He knocked down four of his six looks from deep and finished the game with 14 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block in the Celtics’ 116-99 win in Miami.

Williams was even better than her score.

Whenever the Celtics needed a big play, he was there, whether it was hitting a run-killing 3 or denying Butler in the post. The Celtics outscored the Heat by 15 points in the minutes Williams was on the floor. It’s no coincidence that a Celtics defense that had been struggling throughout the playoffs: Boston entered Game 4 surrendering 113.5 points per 100 possessions, a middle-of-the-pack regular season rate, and a 3-point deficit than usual. -season mark: Had his best game in weeks once Williams reinserted himself into the rotation.

“Grant just played solid,” Mazzulla told reporters after the game, which in Mazzulla’s world counts as high praise. “He made open shots. He did a great job of screening versus the switch and just executed the game plan defensively.”

If the Celtics intend to become the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs, they need to keep Williams in the rotation. He won’t carry them like Jayson Tatum needs or can, but he makes the Celtics a better team.

For some reason it has taken Mazzulla almost three rounds to learn this. That he changed his mind in Game 4 is one of the reasons the Celtics’ season is still alive.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the top: the Philadelphia 76ers and the boldest process in the history of professional sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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