BOSTON — Grant Williams returned to his typical jovial demeanor in front of several dozen children at the BCYF Curtis Hall Community Center in Jamaica Plain, where the Celtics unveiled a newly renovated basketball court.
Williams circled around campers, joined the drills and smiled, escaping the frustration apparent from the night before. Williams was a DNP-CD in Boston’s 117-113 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first time since May, 2021. Head coach Joe Mazzulla said the move in the win stemmed from matchup reasons, including adding floor spacing and rim protection to the floor.
“You can’t control any of that,” Williams said. “You can only control your approach and how you respond. That’s something that you’d have to ask Joe and those guys. They have their reasons and their focus, so for me, it’s just a matter of maintaining that perspective and understanding that it’s not necessarily on the floor that I get to prove myself, you just prove yourself in the work that you put in, working out, playing as hard as you can, practices that the other guys don’t necessarily do, you do.”
“Then you just try and continue to stay ready just in case your number is called, because at the end of the day, like you said, it’s been year-over-year for me. It’s something that definitely gets frustrating, but it’s something that you have to respond to with the right mentality or else it could go the other way and spiral.”
The Celtics played Mike Muscala and Sam Hauser off the bench against Cleveland over Williams after tightening the rotation in an overtime win over the Pacers last week that featured six Williams minutes. Monday’s loss to the Knicks saw him take the floor for only 16 in a season where he averaged 27.5 minutes per game before that. While experimentation in the face of an increasingly healthy team made sense, seeing Williams’ role reduced proved surprising after the immense role he played in last season’s Finals run.
Williams did struggle recently, shooting 33.3% from the field in 11 February games while falling to 32.5% from three on 3.6 attempts per game. His slump shooting below 40% from the field and 36% from three extends back to Dec. 10, 36 games, during which Williams told CLNS Media teams running him out of the corner impacted his offense. An attempt to do too much, dribbling in the left wing, gave a game-tying shot opportunity away at Milwaukee.
An impending free agency, championship expectations for the team and a shooting elbow injury Williams revealed after that Bucks loss, but didn’t elaborate on, all loom while Williams tries to maintain an optimistic mindset. He did the same when trade rumors emerged early last month.
“I feel like I’m balancing it pretty well,” Williams said. “For me, it’s always just been about doing whatever the team needs. Whether that’s playing or not playing, I’ll try to my best to be the person that I am, try my best to be a team player as I’ve always been and understand that, who knows what the future looks like.”
“You can only focus on today, and when you try your best to approach every day with the right mentality, give back to those that you need to and give the energy to those that deserve, and that’s always something I’ve been very vocal about and something I’ll try to continue to do … as hard as I am on myself, you’ve gotta give yourself some light sometimes, so for me, it’s just a matter of maintaining perspective and continuing to impact the team in a positive way, whether that’s on the floor or off.”
Robert Williams III, who said he and Muscala formed a vocal bond on the floor in Wednesday’s win, said Grant’s mental strength will help him bounce back while Jaylen Brown emphasized the theme of sacrifice on the team. Grant previously told CLNS in Philadelphia that minute reductions, however frustrating, go over better in wins than losses, which the Celtics succeeded in achieving over the Pacers and Cavaliers.
Mazzulla didn’t reveal many reasons for his recent rotation juggling, aside from matchups, which brought Blake Griffin into action against Cleveland, landed Muscala on the bench recently and centered around double big.
The size paid off in a dominant defensive showing against Cleveland while navigating away from Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon nearly cost Boston against Philadelphia. The tighter overall rotation reflects a team preparing for a playoff push, and it’s hard to imagine one without Williams in position to switch across defensive positions, something Mazzulla didn’t want his front court doing against Cleveland.
While the win marked the fourth time all season the Celtics’ starters from last season reunited, nearly each player on the roster received opportunities through injuries and rest. A back-to-back approaches on Sunday and Monday while Tatum reiterated Brad Stevens’ desire for him to play less down the stretch. Those nights could see Williams take on a larger role, while the one he succeeded in last year followed a narrow focus.
The mid-range and short-range floaters challenged him this season after a hot start, and while his rim runs and post-ups provide a change of pace Brown mentioned the Celtics needing in losses like the recent one to New York, his shot is the three — 40.4% for the season. Payton Pritchard previously argued for Hauser by providing that bigger picture.
This month, one where Williams hopes to turn a focus toward advocacy for the WNBA, G-League, equal opportunity and for men and women to look out for each other, CBA negotiations also continue between the league and NBPA, which elected Williams as first vice president. Many issues remain, including the league’s revenue stream, draft age, veteran opportunities, competition and schedule challenges.
The two sides share a Mar. 31 deadline and optimism to form an agreement. Another stressor this month.
“We’re trying to make sure that we’re putting the most competitive product out there, but also trying to make sure that every player is protected. How that gets down in the nit and grit of things, we always leave that to negotiations and discussions, but we’re trying to make sure that the future is protected just as much as the present,” Williams said. I feel like that’s something you’ve got to trust and believe and be optimistic about. You can’t ever be pessimistic or even focused on if it doesn’t get done. You’ve got to have the right mentality and believe that both sides are working to get the deal done and make sure that we’re taken care of for years to come.”