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Following his best game of the season thus far, Grant Williams made a rare appearance in the Celtics press room after Boston’s 132-125 win over Toronto. Williams was his usual talkative self, as he answered questions ranging from his own battle for minutes to how he’s been working on his game this season.

“That’s the benefit of having such a talented team that we have. Sometimes you’re out of the rotation, but you have to be there in Stitched Boston Celtics Jerseys support of others, and the guys were there in support of me tonight.”

During his rookie season, Williams missed three games due to DNP-CD’s. In the first half of the current season, Williams has already sat out seven. With minutes as inconsistent as his on-court product, there’s no clear projection on how Williams fits this current roster or where his best position is.

But against the Toronto Raptors last night, Williams put all those existential questions to the side, opting to take advantage of his short-handed opponents in and more importantly, meaningful playing time after just seeing six minutes in Boston’s homestand.

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A keyword when discussing “tweeners” is versatility—if you’re too big for a wing and too small for a big, then you have to be adaptable and diverse in your offensive approach. Take a quick look at the Tennessee products shot profile from this game, and you see a second-year player proving they’re more than a spot-up corner guy.

“I think I was in my own head in the beginning (of the season), and wasn’t working as hard as I could have been. Next thing you know, I flipped the mantra and got back to how I’ve worked my whole life, and I think it’s paid off, whether it be my three-point shooting or my defense, and I think it’s paid off.”

We’re starting to see a more diversified shot profile from the second year big. Against Toronto, the most impressive shot came as Williams stepping into a three-point opportunity following a Payton Pritchard offensive board.

Want to prove you’re more than a spot-up shooter? Then hit a three in motion. Grant steps into this shot, sets his feet, then fires away with confidence. Is this possession indicative of what Williams could do against a hard close out? Nope. Is it a sign that he’s able to hurt teams as a DHO or pick-and-pop threat? You bet it is.

Here’s the funny thing that’s been bothering me. Throughout the preseason, Brad Stevens placed Williams in an Al-Horford-esque role. The second-year tweener ran DHO’s above the break and then either popped or rolled to generate a defensive rotation. Once the regular season rolled around, he was back to restricted spot-up shots.

If Stevens isn’t using Williams in that Horford role, finding a way to excel in the corners like the play below is imperative. Seeing him figure out how to maximize his potential from the corner will be an enormous plus for him. We know he’s never going to be a star offensive player and doesn’t have the size to utilize his post-play the same way he did in college.

Ideally, you don’t want Jayson Tatum attacking baseline in the half-court; you would rather have him work downhill or from the post. Williams recognizes this, initiates the hand-off action, hits the screen, and then pops to the corner for an open pop-up shot.

When a player has Tatum’s scoring gravity, it’s a safe bet that both defenders will stick with him as he comes off a screen. By allowing Tatum to drag the defenders out of position, you’re creating space for an effortless look or room to attack close-outs if help defense rotates over. Not a sexy play but a good indicator of basketball IQ.

Despite Williams efficient scoring outburst—he was 3-of-4 from deep, and 7-of-9 overall—questions still loom over his defense, an area that was previously a strength.

Plays such as this one, where Williams loses focus on his man, allowing a back-cut as a result, have riddled his defensive possessions this season. At first glance, it looks like Williams is doing all the right things.

Operating as the low man, Williams is in a position to help on the drive or tag a rolling big. Still, another aspect of providing help defense is to be aware of your initial assignment, which was Chris Boucher in this instance.

A back-cut from Boucher lead to an easy scoring opportunity around the rim. In fairness, this possession isn’t totally on Williams, as there was missed communication on the initial drive, but plays like this have crept into his game with regularity this year.

Granted, there were also multiple defensive plays where Williams looked good, specifically ones where he was able to keep his man in front of him throughout the possession. Only when Williams is beaten on the initial offensive action, do the fouls or rotational breakdowns occur.

Herein lies one of Stevens’ biggest conundrums.

The chemistry and malleability of Williams’ skillset makes him both an interesting candidate for more playing time and yet, his mastery of nothing has seemingly knocked him out of the rotation. After his 17-point and 4-rebound performance, Williams spoke highly of Kemba Walker’s guidance as he navigates his rocky sophomore season.

“As a leader, he’s been very communicative, not only just for me being in and out of the rotation, telling me to keep my head up, to keep engaged, and stay ready. As a person, he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life, and I’m just thankful to have him around.”

With playing time not guaranteed for Williams, having leaders like Walker and Tatum in his corner will be invaluable as the team enters the second half of the truncated season – primarily due to the struggles he’s had on the defensive end of the floor in recent months.

Williams provided a substantial account of himself, flashed improved offensive awareness, and for the most part, played cohesively on defense. The question now: was this one performance enough to earn back Brad Stevens’ trust and find himself playing consistent minutes again after the All-Star break?

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The Celtics don’t have many assets opposing teams want, and that list is even smaller when considering just who Boston would be fine parting with at the NBA trade deadline.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are not Wholesale Boston Celtics Jerseys going anywhere this week, obviously. Kemba Walker, who is making $34 million this season while not playing back-to-backs, is not going to have many suitors steadfast in his pursuit. And then there are Boston’s bench pieces — Grant Williams, Semi Ojeleye, Tremont Waters, etc. — but we don’t expect teams to be lining up for them, either.

The reality is that three players — veteran guard Marcus Smart, up-and-coming big man Robert Williams and rookie first-rounder Payton Pritchard — probably are the only ones who both would entice other teams and get Boston a solid return.

Smart, specifically, seems to have developed a market for himself. The Atlanta Hawks have “expressed interest” in the longest tenured Celtic, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Atlanta, as you may have heard, has been linked to Boston in recent weeks as the Celtics were reported to be among teams kicking the tires on 23-year-old forward John Collins.

It begs the question: Should the Celtics be willing to part with Smart if it means they will acquire Collins?

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Admittedly, this is a tough one.

With Smart, first and foremost are the intangibles, so we’ll start there. He has developed into the team’s vocal leader all while his hustle plays have, at times, made us wish Boston had more players like him. It’s not crazy to believe he has won the Celtics games because of said winning plays. Additionally, his vocal role seems to be one the Celtics sorely need, and you don’t have to look too far for proof. Boston put together a horrendous month-and-a-half stretch without Smart due to a calf strain leading up to the recent All-Star break. The C’s were 5-9 without him before closing the first half of the season with four straight wins.

And his intangibles weren’t the only thing they missed during that absence. The Celtics were abysmal on the defensive end and lacked another shot creator. Trading Smart, 27, for a player like Collins, who wants more shots but needs others to create for him, doesn’t really help the current problem Boston has. Because while each Brown and Tatum have tried to become more of a facilitator, the C’s still are in need of more, especially with Walker’s minutes and absence.

Smart is an extremely unique circumstance due to how Celtics fans tend to feel two completely opposite ways. So while Smart has half the fan base praising his work ethic and the role he fits, there’s the other half who bash him for his inability or hinderance on the offensive end.

That’s the other side of this, and it’s fair, too. Smart has, at times, showed far too much confidence in his shot-making ability and it’s, at times, led to a brutal shot selection. Smart’s 3-pointers or drives through contact have meant less touches for players like Brown, Tatum or even Walker.

But this writer tends to overlook that because the good tends to outweigh the bad. Never mind the fact he’s the heart and soul of the Celtics.

Never say never, we guess, but the Celtics should be hesitant to deal Smart for Collins. If it means throwing a substantial amount of draft capital to accommodate then they should do so. And there’s absolutely no way the Celtics should even consider it unless they can lock up Collins, a restricted free agent after this season, long term.

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Khris Middleton — 27 points, 11-for-20 shooting, 13 rebounds, 4 assists

Middleton and Bobby Portis were crucial and had plenty of looks due to the Celtics’ defensive game plan. But once again, as always seems to be the case, Middleton was the Celtics killer down the stretch. The Celtics just seem to have had nothing for him over the years, and Wednesday was no different.

What it means
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The Celtics looked dead in the water as late as the second half — angry, frustrated and yet somehow still somewhat lifeless.

But Kemba Walker made the game respectable with a flurry of offense in the third quarter, and the Celtics appeared re-energized. They got some stops, scored some transition baskets and even had a couple of chances to tie or take the lead.

The Celtics deserve some credit for battling back. They deserve some criticism for letting the game get out of control. They deserve some leeway — half the players on the roster can’t confidently say they know they’ll be on the team by 3:01 p.m. tomorrow.

But wins and losses are a zero-sum game, and Wednesday was a loss. Whatever mitigating circumstances the Celtics can claim, they are still 21-23 with another game against the Bucks on Friday.

Takeaways
1. Kemba Walker has taken a lot of criticism this season, and he took plenty for the first two quarters. Some of it was deserved — he had four turnovers midway through the third. But Walker responded impressively and performed the task the Celtics have so desperately need him to perform all year: He relieved some pressure on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, stepping up while they struggled. In the fourth quarter, he buried a 3-pointer that helped the Celtics close the gap, and he punished Milwaukee for leaving him open.

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“I thought we just picked up our effort, our energy defensively,” Walker said. “That was the most important thing. And whenever we got stops, we got out and ran, and that kind of helped us and we started to get a little bit Cheap Boston Celtics Jerseys more momentum. Obviously we just didn’t do that earlier on in the game, so we’ve just got to get to the film and learn from our mistakes.”

Walker has been off and on, but he picked a great time to have perhaps his best game — and unquestionably his best half — of the season.

2. Jeff Teague has quietly played well over the last week as well — he finished with 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting on Wednesday after an impressive shooting night in the starting lineup on Monday. Teague is a streaky player, but he looks a lot more comfortable and confident recently.

3. The final play will haunt Daniel Theis for a while. Milwaukee’s defense did everything to take away looks for Brown, Tatum and Walker, and Theis sprang wide open. Theis did everything right, got a great look, shot confidently and put the ball directly online.

The shot, however, was just a little long. The Celtics bench, which had a direct angle on it, appeared to think it was good, and Theis yelled in frustration.

“He stepped in and shot it with authority,” Stevens said after the game. “It looked good.”

Watching the replay, perhaps Theis could have tried to draw a foul on Brook Lopez, who closed out hard and looked a little out of control. But before you criticize Theis, honestly ask yourself if you would have stood your ground with a 280-pound behemoth leaping directly at you, and if you answered “yes,” ask yourself why you are lying.

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4. Jayson Tatum returned to the lineup after missing Monday’s game with an illness, but he didn’t look like himself — 18 points on 7-for-19 shooting (1-for-6 from three).

5. The Celtics sold out trying to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo in the paint with mixed results. Antetokounmpo finished with just 13 points on 4-for-11 shooting, but Milwaukee finished with six players in double figures, including Khris Middleton’s 27 points on 11-for-20 shooting. The Bucks revolve around Antetokounmpo, but they have a lot of players who can score as well. It will be interesting to see if Stevens employs a similar strategy on Friday hoping to avoid a similarly imposing deficit.