The Boston Celtics‘ frustrating season hit a new low earlier this week when they blew a double-digit lead to a Minnesota Timberwolves team that was missing its entire starting lineup, then followed that up with a historically bad 3-point shooting performance in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
With the league-leading Phoenix Suns in town on Friday, it seemed like things could get even worse. Instead, the Celtics came out with all sorts of energy and surged to a double-digit lead by the end of the first quarter. They never looked back after that and led by as much as 30 as they cruised to a 123-108 win.
Given the opponent, the fact that they were playing without Jayson Tatum (COVID-19 protocols), and the way they controlled nearly the entire game, this was arguably the Celtics’ best performance of the season. And it came thanks in large part to Robert Williams III, who turned in one of the best performances of his career.
Williams was all over the place on both sides of the ball, finishing with 10 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, five blocks and two steals in a truly dominant performance. Though he finished a few steals short of a vaunted 5×5 game, he did record the first triple-double of his career. He joined reigning MVP Nikola Jokic as the only other center to put up a triple-double this season and became just the ninth player in NBA history to have a triple-double while shooting 100 percent from the field.
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As per usual, Williams went about his business in style, submitting a number of highlight-reel plays. In the first quarter, he crashed the glass for this ridiculous put-back slam. After four more offensive rebounds on Friday, Williams is now up to fourth in the league in that category, averaging 3.9 per game. His ability to attack the offensive glass and create extra possessions is vital for a Celtics team that struggles to make shots.
He also showed off his ability on the defensive end with five blocks, including this one on Devin Booker. Including his five blocks against the Suns, Williams is now averaging 1.9 per game, which is a career-high and good for fifth in the league.
But for all of his brilliant moments of athleticism, perhaps the most notable aspect of Williams’ game was his passing. Though he averages less than two assists per game, that has more to do with the lack of time that Williams has the ball than his passing abilities. “He’s more than people think he is,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said.
Williams’ vision and feel are actually quite impressive for a big man, and if you watch the Celtics regularly you’ll notice he often makes sharp passes to cutters — like here, to Marcus Smart, for example.
Williams’ emergence has been one of the clear bright spots for the Celtics this season. He’s putting up career-highs across the board with 10 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.9 blocks per game. And if he had enough shot attempts to qualify, his field goal percentage of 74.4 would lead the league. Best of all, the Celtics believe Williams can get even better. Due to injuries, he’s still only played 160 career games — less than two full seasons.
“He believes in me a lot,” Williams said of Udoka. “I’m thankful for the way he pushes me every day.”