Celtics

Celtics rookie Robert Williams ready if role increases

Celtics rookie Robert Williams ready if role increases

BOSTON — The Celtics were working on out-of-bounds sets at Monday’s practice when coach Brad Stevens sidled up next to Robert Williams and asked the rookie about the jaw-dropping alley-oop he threw down for his first NBA points in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s win in Detroit.

It turns out Williams messed up the play.

“Coach told me it was supposed to be a comeback screen and I was supposed to turn around and go screen again,” Williams said with a sheepish grin. 

After initially screening for Gordon Hayward, Williams saw a clear path to the rim and rumbled towards the basket as Marcus Smart sent a big lob that Williams caught above the charge circle before throwing down a vicious two-handed slam as Boston’s entire bench spilled onto the floor in celebration.

“[Stevens] said, ‘Rob, it’s alright if you run the play wrong as long as you jump 13 feet in the air and dunk it,’” Williams said with a chuckle. "So if I’m gonna [mess] it up, I gotta be prepared to dunk it.”

Stevens confirmed that Williams went off script, but he’s OK with some freelancing if it ends the way it did that night. Said Stevens: "I told him, ‘You can run them all wrong if you dunk it at 13 feet."

    Logging his first extended regular-season minutes on Saturday, Williams offered a tantalizing glimpse of his potential, not only with the loud alley-oop but with three blocks, two rebounds, and one fancy assist over eight minutes.

    The 6-foot-10 Williams could be in line for more playing time after the Celtics announced Monday that second-year big man Daniel Theis will be sidelined indefinitely due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

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    Boston should get a frontcourt reinforcement Tuesday with Aron Baynes, sidelined the past three games due to a sore right hamstring, expected to return. But if Baynes’ minutes are limited and Theis is out, then Boston’s only other pure bigs behind starter Al Horford would be Williams and Guerschon Yabusele. 

    Williams has played just 11 total minutes through six games and will be asked to learn on the fly but Stevens has complete confidence in the No. 27 pick in this year’s draft. Especially because of the unique athleticism he brings to the court.

    "The vertical athleticism, that vertical separation, is what people are looking for off pick-and-rolls. Then on the [defensive] end, that's where [his athleticism] can be really effective,” said Stevens. "He’s gotta have an expeditious learning curve with not playing as much early.

    “But I have no doubt he could be thrown in when it’s all on the line.”

    That’s a particularly bold statement considering how most expected Williams to toil in Maine with the G-League Red Claws given Boston’s depth and the rookie’s need for game reps. Williams missed much of summer league with knee tendinitis and played only 40 total minutes in the preseason.

    Williams is such a freak athlete that he gives the Celtics a jolt of something they have long lacked, and moments like that loud alley-oop — improvised or not — might strengthen Williams' case for additional court time.

    But even his mother is giving him grief about messing up that play, among others.

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    “S---, really just a bunch of criticism on the s--- I did wrong,” Williams said Monday when asked how his family and friends reacted to the highlight-reel alley-oop. "My mom got on my a-- about the angles of the screens I was setting. Hey, it's tough love, it’s what I need.”

    Williams has gotten plenty of advice after making a less-than-stellar first impression in Boston. Williams, a projected lottery talent, didn’t attend the draft in New York, electing instead to be with friends and family at a Buffalo Wild Wings in his native Louisiana. The next morning, he overslept a conference call with Boston reporters.

    After a more formal introduction at the team’s sparkling new practice facility a few days later, Williams missed a flight and was absent for the team's first summer league practice of the season.

    Otherwise, he’s been a model student, soaking up all he can from veterans like Al Horford. The Celtics assigned coaching assistant Alex Barlow to work with Williams, who even rented a place within walking distance of the Auerbach Center in Brighton so that he could ensure on-time arrivals.

    Asked what has stood out about Williams’ development since draft night, Stevens said, "Just his desire to be better.” Then he wondered out loud if missing that first practice might have been a blessing in disguise for Williams.

    "Missing the first practice probably was a good thing now, in retrospect,” said Stevens. "Because I think that it even locked him in more so. I think his work ethic has been awesome. His spirit is great. He and Barlow have a fun relationship. 

    "I’m really glad he’s here. I think he’s got a high upside.”

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    Jayson Tatum, NBA All-Stars honor Kobe Bryant with well-played All-Star game

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    USA Today Sports Images

    Jayson Tatum, NBA All-Stars honor Kobe Bryant with well-played All-Star game

    CHICAGO -- The untimely death of Kobe Bryant was the theme leading up to Sunday night’s All-Star game which was won by Team LeBron, 157-155.

    The night began with a series of tributes to Bryant which included a stirring speech given by Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson.

    Throughout Johnson’s speech, there was the occasional “Ko-be, Ko-be, Ko-be!” chant from the stands.

    And the actual game itself was one of the better-played All-Star games in recent memory courtesy of a new format that seemed to go over well with all involved. 

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    The game came down to big shots and big stops by both teams, a fitting end to the night considering how all involved wanted to honor Kobe Bryant and did just that with a brand of basketball that in many ways was part of the Kobe narrative of elite play at both ends of the floor. 

    Chris Paul acknowledged the challenge of playing the game at a high level and not think about Bryant who was a major influence for many of today’s All-Star players. 

    “It was tough early, especially early,” Paul said. “For a lot of us, it's still surreal. It's not real until you start showing pictures and talking about it. But I think the best way we could honor Kobe, Gigi, and everyone involved was to play like we played, you know what I Mean? Me and Russ (Russell Westbrook) kept talking about it, that's one thing about Kobe, whenever he was on our team in the All-Star Game, there wasn't none of that cool stuff. There wasn't none of that. It was like, as long as they throw the ball up, let's get to it.”

    LeBron James added, “You could definitely feel his presence just from the start. From every moment from the fans chanting his name till you seen the numbers. Every time you saw Giannis' team run on the floor, you saw the 2-4. So he was definitely here.”

    Former NBA All-Star Richard “Rip” Hamilton was among those in attendance at the game. 

    He and Bryant were both prep stars who grew up competing with and against each other in Pennsylvania and were at times roommates during all-star competitions.

    Hamilton acknowledged he still hasn’t fully come to grips with what happened to Bryant and the others. 

    “It hurt me, man, it hurt me to my core,” Hamiton told NBC Sports Boston. “And I still haven’t fully recovered from it. Him and I go back way before the NBA and the glitz and glamor and everything else. It’s a thing that … it still impacts me to this day.”

    And once the current crop of All-Star players stepped on the floor, Team Giannis wore jersey number 24 (Kobe Bryant’s number) while Team LeBron wore jersey number 2 (the number of GiGi Bryant, Kobe’s daughter). 

    Boston’s Jayson Tatum is among the many players on the floor whose game was heavily influenced by Bryant who along with his daughter Gigi, was killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. 

    The relationship between Tatum and Bryant had grown into a friendship strengthened by Bryant’s interest in mentoring Tatum who has never shied away from acknowledging how influential Bryant has been in his life, both on the court as well as off the court since coming into the NBA. 

    “He was the reason I started playing basketball,” Tatum said recently. “To have him reach out and try and help me, wanna work with me was something I would never forget.”

    Jayson Tatum forges key relationships at memorable first All-Star Game

    Jayson Tatum forges key relationships at memorable first All-Star Game

    CHICAGO -- In the days leading up to Sunday night’s 69th NBA All-Star game, Jayson Tatum, playing for Team LeBron, was intent on going at teammate and member of Team Giannis, Kemba Walker, every chance he could get. 

    True to form, Tatum went right at Walker moments into the second quarter when both were on the floor together. 

    He tried to take him into the post, but Walker wasn’t having it. 

    Tatum then pulled up for a fadeaway jumper that was off the mark. 

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    Chalk that up to one of the many memories Tatum will take away from his first All-Star appearance. 

    Tatum would finish with six points while Walker tallied 23 as one of the key performers in Team Giannis' comeback that fell just short as Team LeBron escaped with a 157-155 win with the game-winning score coming on an Anthony Davis free throw. 

    But when it comes to the NBA All-Star game, points, rebounds and assists mean little. 

    More important are the relationships that are formed and in many instances, strengthened at such events. 

    Tatum has been one of the players in his age group for years, so there are a number of All-Stars that he has had a prior connection to, prior to tonight’s game. 

    But the one that has been arguably most important to his growth this season, has been that between him and Walker. 

    “Kemba, that's my guy,” Tatum said. “Our relationship and friendship has grown a lot over this season so far, from USA basketball to playing on the Celtics to experiencing All-Star together. So it's been a good ride. We're enjoying it.”

    Walker is playing in his fourth All-Star game, a player whose status among the NBA’s elite is well cemented. 

    Prior to this season, Walker talked often about the growth he saw in Tatum’s game when they were Team USA teammates, along with fellow Celtics Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. 

    Recognizing Tatum’s talent, that’s one thing. 

    But more than anything, Walker has made a point of encouraging Tatum to continue striving for greatness, and not worry about how that will impact him.

    “I’m good. I know who I am and what I can do in this league,” Walker told NBC Sports Boston recently. “Jayson’s really good and part of my job here, is to let him know how great he is and do whatever I can to help him be great all the time.”

    During an interview with NBC Sports Boston during All-Star weekend, Walker echoed those sentiments about Tatum. 

    “Like I’ve been saying all year, he’s a special talent,” Walker said. “He deserves to be here. I’m happy I’m able to share this one with him; especially his first one. This is the one he’s never going to forget, ever. I’m happy to be a part of it.”