Celtics

Celtics preseason: Don't take Williams' plus/minus for Granted

Celtics preseason: Don't take Williams' plus/minus for Granted

BOSTON — Call him the Greek God of Plus/Minus.

Or maybe, given Grant Williams’ Charlotte roots, The Queen City King of Plus/Minus is more appropriate. The bottom line is good things tend to happen whenever Williams steps on a basketball court.

Consider this: In Williams’ first four appearances after being drafted by the Celtics with the No. 22 pick in the 2019 draft, he topped Boston's summer squad in plus/minus during its stint in Las Vegas. He was plus-21 against the 76ers, plus-20 against the Cavaliers, plus-16 against the Nuggets, and plus-25 against the Grizzlies.

Williams was plus-82 overall during his first 88 minutes of floor time in games the Celtics won by a total of 70 points. He only briefly showed mortality when Boston’s summer squad mentally downshifted in a summer-ending rematch with Memphis (Williams was minus-8 over 30 minutes in that game).

On Sunday, while making his preseason debut for the Celtics, Williams was up to his old tricks. He was a team-best plus-14 over 18 minutes of play while helping Boston rally for a 107-106 triumph over his hometown Hornets.

The Celtics, essentially, have outscored opponents by 93 points during Williams’ first 136 minutes in a Boston uniform.

Most players that emerge as statistical darlings embrace the analytics. Williams, however, admitted over the summer that he didn’t even know how plus/minus was calculated. Now he knows the simplicity of it — the point differential when a player is on the court — but he’s not rushing to champion a statistic that most readily admit is quite noisy to begin with.

"I feel like statistics are going to be a part of the game but I don’t focus too much on them,” shrugged Williams. "My whole thing is just a desire to help my team win. Sure, stats might say something. I just focus on whether or not you get the win or loss.”

There is a danger in putting too much stock in plus/minus, and especially so in games that don’t matter. Alas, it’s still uncanny that Williams could top the team in five of his first six games, and all produced wins.

"For me, it’s more like as long as I’m making the right reads and doing the right things while I’m on the court, then that’s when I’m content,” said Williams. "I don’t really pay much attention to — before or after a game — going through thinking I gotta lead the team in this one category. My whole thing is, whatever impact I make on the court, if I’m doing my job, that’s all that matters.”

That team-first mentality — along with a basketball IQ that’s well beyond his 20 years — has endeared Williams to his new coaches and teammates. Likewise, his strength is advanced for his age and that gives him a chance to joust with NBA giants. The, ahem, big question is whether Williams, who measured a mere 6-foot-6 without shoes, can thrive among NBA giants.

The Celtics are hoping he can find a way to let his IQ and technique negate his height, not unlike, say, Draymond Green (who is now listed at 6-foot-5 in the NBA’s new shoe-less measurements).

In his preseason debut, Williams didn’t shoot the ball well (2 of 7 overall and missed all three 3-pointers attempted), had a couple turnovers, and committed five fouls. And yet the good still outweighed the bad as he grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and had a two-handed block on 7-foot Cody Zeller. Williams got credited with two charges drawn as well.

Where exactly does Williams’ eye land when he does look at a box score?

"If I look at the box score, it’s typically about matchups — somebody who I guarded and just to see how he performed, or how the team performed and how we reacted to those guys,” said Williams. "Say we go into a game and we know a guy’s averaging 26 points per game and he’s prolific at doing something like 3-point shooting, and we held him to 1-for-9 for 3 or we held him to 23 points or something below his average, that’s what I’ll take a look at if I’m looking at the box score.”

After Tuesday’s practice at the Auerbach Center, Marcus Smart called Williams over for a brief chat. Smart, as he has done throughout camp, wanted to offer a few pointers that might help Williams adjust to the NBA game. Williams yearns to be a bigger version of Smart, the sort of player who impacts the game in ways well beyond scoring output.

For now, Williams is simply soaking up all the information he can and make sure he’s in the right spots on the court. He admitted it was a bit surreal experiencing his first game Sunday inside TD Garden.

"It was definitely one of those things where you’re like, ‘Wow, it’s finally here.’ You kinda just look around and you’re like, ‘This is amazing,’” said Williams. “Before the game, I said this sorta feels like 2K, the only thing is you can’t send yourself into the game. But it was cool. You’re in TD Garden, you’re looking around, you see all the banners, all the fans, and you’re playing against the Hornets — my hometown team — so it’s like, ‘Wow, this is different.’”

The game might be different but Williams’ impact has been the same. As the Celtics and a question mark-filled frontcourt search for ways to replace the departures of players like Al Horford, there’s going to be an opportunity for rookies to make an impact this season.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens often suggests the best thing a player can do is impact winning. Plus/minus might not be the best gauge of that but, well, it’s hard to suggest that Williams isn't having a positive impact early in his Celtics career.

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A. Sherrod Blakely's Takeways from Celtics' bounce-back win over Suns

A. Sherrod Blakely's Takeways from Celtics' bounce-back win over Suns

Well, the losing didn’t last very long. 

The Celtics shook off their second loss of the season from 24 hours earlier and came away with a solid 99-85 win in Phoenix led by Jayson Tatum’s 26-point, 11-rebound performance for his second double-double of the season. 

It was relatively close until the Celtics closed out the second quarter with a 20-4 run to lead 57-42 at the half. 

Boston (11-2) continued to pull away in the second half in what was a surprisingly cushy win over a Suns team that had won five of its past seven and was playing some of the best basketball in the NBA. 

However, the victory could be bittersweet if Marcus Smart is lost for an extended period with an ankle sprain suffered in the fourth quarter, although postgame comments from Smart and coach Brad Stevens make it sound as if the injury was not as severe as it looked. Smart left after scoring 17 points to go with four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

Boston’s success on Monday was similar to what they had done in their 10-game winning streak but wasn't apparent in their 100-99 loss in Sacramento on Sunday, a game in which Smart’s potential game-winning shot hung on the rim for what seemed like an eternity before rolling out as time expired. 

On Monday, the Celtics’ defense forced turnovers early on, which took the Suns out of running their offense as efficiently as they are accustomed to. And that kept Devin Booker, who came in having averaged more than 42 points against the Celtics, from ever getting into any kind of rhythm. 

It was a quality win over a quality opponent on the road, a victory that came about by Boston getting back to doing the things that had allowed them to run off their impressive winning streak. 

Here are a few more takeaways: 

MARCUS SMART

We often talk about Marcus Smart as being the heart and soul of this team. It’s hard to imagine anyone being more locked into Monday night than Smart, who knew he had to lead the defensive focus on limiting the high-scoring Booker. Still, as we’ve seen with Smart this season more than any other, he’s intent on showing he can impact the game at both ends of the floor. In addition to leading the defensive efforts, Smart also had a strong game scoring with 17 points. However, the ankle injury makes him questionable for Wednesday against the Clippers in Los Angeles.

DEFENDING BOOKER

Considering how Booker has torched the Celtics for an average of 42.5 points in the previous four games against them, the Celtics had to feel really good about limiting him to just 20 points. And they did so with a multitude of defenders coming at Booker from a multitude of angles via double-teams, triple-teams, tilting in his direction … if it involved defense, chances are high that the Celtics tried it at some point in limiting Booker. Whether Smart is available Wednesday or not, the Celtics will have to employ a similar all-hands-on-deck approach defensively if they are to somehow limit the Clippers’ two best players, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. 

CELTICS BENCH 

This group doesn’t score a ton of points, but they are starting to make the most of their chances to impact what matters most to the Celtics - winning. Brad Wanamaker continues to be their most consistent guard off the bench, scoring 10 points to go with six assists and three steals. Grant Williams, who picked up his first DNP-CD (Did not play- coach's decision) in the loss in Sacramento, maxed out his opportunity to play with four points, two blocks and a slew of hustle plays that Boston absolutely needed from him tonight. The C's also got solid contributions from Robert Williams and Carsen Edwards. 

FIRST-HALF KEMBA

It has been well documented how Kemba Walker has struggled offensively in the first half of most games this season. 

Not Monday.

The Celtics got late-game Kemba, in the first half for a change. He wound up with 19 points, 13 of which came in the first half on 6-for-11 shooting with all five of his misses coming from 3-point range.  

The Celtics really needed Walker to put his imprint on the game early so they could get off to a good start, establish control of the game and pull away in the end. 

“I try to come out and make the right plays,” Walker told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin after the win.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

 


 
 

NBA Highlights: Celtics bounce back with win 99-85 over Suns

NBA Highlights: Celtics bounce back with win 99-85 over Suns

FINAL SCORE: Celtics 99, Suns 85

IN BRIEF: Jayson Tatum scores 26 points and has 11 rebounds and Kemba Walker scores 19 points as the Celtics bounce back from a loss in Sacramento a night earlier and beat the Suns in Phoenix, 99-85. BOX SCORE

CELTICS RECORD: 11-2

HIGHLIGHTS

ARON BAYNES RE-INTRODUCING HIMSELF TO HIS OLD FRIENDS:

SMART FINDS BROWN FOR THE ALLEY-OOP:

HELLO AGAIN, MR. BAYNES:

NO 3 IS SAFE WITH ROBERT WILLIAMS AROUND:

MARCUS SMART, SHARPSHOOTER:

KEMBA HITS, TAKES A SEAT:

KEMBA CLOSES OUT THE HALF STRONG:

A SCARY-LOOKING MARCUS SMART INJURY:

A BIG NIGHT FOR TATUM:

UP NEXT:

@ L.A. Clippers, Wednesday, 10 p.m., NBC Sports Boston
@ Denver Nuggets, Friday, 9 p.m., NBC Sports Boston 
 

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.