Robert Williams builds arguments for the title role, adding a new twist to the Celtics’ search for Andre Drummond

Opportunity knocked on the door for Robert Williams after the Celtics traded their starting center Daniel Theis at the buzzer before Thursday’s trade deadline and the third-year center answered the call with one of the best performances ever. his career in Friday’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Williams typically has his biggest impact on the offensive side of the court with his shooting ability around the rim, but he shone more on the defensive end against what was the hottest team in the NBA (eight straight wins) before Friday’s impressive win over Boston. . Williams was a commanding defensive presence in his first start to the season, racking up five blocks and two steals in his 27 minutes, captaining a Boston defense that had been unfortunate (27 in the NBA) since the All-Star Game.

Milwaukee still got their 3s wide, but Williams provided a solid layer of projection around the rim, hitting it from the weak side and disrupting layup attempts that forced the Bucks to miss point-blank range.

“Rob can hit the rim, but if you spin him off his boy, the teams are good enough to jump, pass and throw him big on the dunk or they are good enough to jump and put their eyes on the rim. , and hitting the corners, “said Brad Stevens. “This is how they sprayed us a few times in individual units. So it’s nice to have guys that can block shots there. “

Offensively, Williams didn’t shoot much, but his impact was tremendous as the rest of Boston’s starting five went red-hot from three-point range. He scored nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field, but also dished out six assists, the most of his career, making strong reads from the high post that created easy looks for his teammates. That vision combined with zero turnovers helped Boston reach new heights in the second half with a season-high 43-point third quarter.

“You have to create a lot of synergy with the headlines in terms of opening them up and getting them the right look and that sort of thing,” Stevens said. “I thought you did a great job tonight. Listen, he’s clearly our best big man here. It’s not a hit to Mo or Luke. He’s ahead of those two guys. We’ll cross all those other bridges when we get there. “

For now, Williams is the default Boston starter with Tristan Thompson still on NBA health and safety protocols and Theis is set to make his Bulls debut next week. However, the Celtics have their eyes on some big names in the acquisition market, including former Cavs center Andre Drummond, with whom the team met on Friday, according to a source.

The Celtics have a strong pitch for Drummond given the fact that they have a starting spot up for grabs at center, but Williams’ play against the Bucks on Friday is an interesting wrinkle on whether Drummond is the best for the five starters if off. In fact he chooses Boston over a number of other suitors (LA Lakers, LA Clippers, Brooklyn, New York). Drummond provides much more volume than Williams at the bottom, but the young Celtic has seen few opportunities in his career to play big minutes. Taking that away from you for a possible rental at Drummond could be a mistake.

However, Boston hiring Drummond doesn’t necessarily mean the Celtics should start him or even give him any of Williams’ 20-25 minutes per game. Tristan Thompson remains outside of NBA health and safety protocols and his return schedule is still unclear. His mediocre play during the first 40 games of the year may make him the odd man in the center rotation if Drummond is signed, as that duo would have a slightly redundant skill set that we saw together on occasions last year in Cleveland when they played together. shortly after the trade deadline.

No matter what happens to Drummond, Williams is making a solid case for an extended initiation case for himself, even though Brad Stevens would not commit to anything at the moment beyond the short term.

“I feel like I did what they set me to do,” Williams said. “I feel like I have exerted a lot of energy with myself and with my teammates. That’s my job. That’s what it’s about. “

Whether that’s enough to earn him the job in the long run remains to be seen, but the Celtics played their best away basketball game in months on Friday night. Consistency is the next step for Williams and the rest of the roster, but the case for developing Williams with the headlines strengthened Friday night, no matter who ends up in a Celtic uniform out of the buyout market.

“I said from the beginning, getting there, getting more minutes is a blessing,” Williams said. “This is how I see it. You have to take advantage. If you don’t take advantage of it, you are losing. “

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