Celtics

How Ime Udoka's message to Grant Williams altered the course of Game 7

Celtics
Grant Williams

BOSTON -- Ime Udoka and Grant Williams briefly found their roles reversed Sunday at TD Garden.

Usually, Udoka is trying to knock the boisterous and confident Williams down a few pegs. But the Celtics head coach noticed Williams' confidence waning early in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bucks, to the detriment of his team.

Milwaukee was leaving Williams wide open for 3-pointers, and Williams couldn't knock them down, missing five of his first seven deep attempts as the Bucks jumped out to a first-half lead.

So, Udoka swallowed his pride and gave his forward a pep talk.

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"I told him to let it fly," Udoka said. "(I told him), 'They’re disrespecting you more tonight than earlier in the series,' and that was the plan on him and other guys.

"He missed a few and got a little hesitant, and I basically said, 'Shoot the ball. What else can you do? Stop driving into crowds and take the shot that they’re giving you.'"

Williams listened to his head coach, with historic results.

The 23-yeard-old forward continued launching and finally found his stroke, hitting 7 of 18 3-pointers to score a game-high 27 points.

 

Williams broke Stephen Curry's record for most 3-point attempts in a Game 7 (15) and tied Curry's record for most Game 7 makes, while leading the Celtics in scoring for the first time in his career. He tallied 16 of those 27 points in the second half, giving a Boston a huge boost after a sluggish first half to help the C's outscore the Bucks 61-38 over the final two quarters.

Udoka joked after the game that he knew Williams would "gloat" about his historic accomplishment, and it turns out he was right, as Williams compared himself to Curry after the game.

"I just laughed, because when (Udoka) said that, I said, '(Curry and I) are both from Charlotte, so it must be a thing,'" Williams said.

But as much as Udoka and the Celtics like to tease Williams, they had his back during his early-game shooting struggles.

"It's tough to get in your own head when your entire team -- like 15 people -- walk up to you and say, 'Let it fly. Keep shooting,'" Williams said. "So, for me it was just like, 'All right, they're encouraging it. Might as well take advantage.'"

The Bucks essentially dared Williams and the Celtics' role players to beat them from deep, packing the paint with 7-footer Brook Lopez and trying to take the ball out of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown's hands.

Milwaukee's strategy worked in Game 1, when Boston made just 10 2-pointers while attempting 50 threes in a 101-89 loss. But it backfired on the Bucks in Game 7: The Celtics made 22 3-pointers on a franchise playoff record 55 attempts, generating 66 points off 3-pointers compared to the Bucks' 12 (4 for 33).

Williams was the catalyst for Boston's outside success Sunday afternoon, embodying the "shooters gonna shoot" mentality to shake off a slow start with an incredible performance that helped punch the Celtics' ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals.