Robert Williams made his NBA debut with a four-minute appearance during the Celtics’ loss to Orlando on Monday. Belying the string of zeros next to his name in the box score, the rookie center was on the floor long enough to alter at least one shot.
Though he appeared to also grab the rebound after making the play, Williams didn’t get credit for his first official NBA board. No problem. With Aron Baynes nursing a strained right hamstring, and his status uncertain for tonight’s game in Oklahoma City, Williams’ opportunities stand a good chance of increasing in the short term.
Asked about the team’s plan for him, Williams said, “Their plan for me is whatever they need me to do. I don’t know what that is, but I’m in for whatever.”
For now, Baynes’ plight considered, there may be some quality minutes in Williams’ immediate future.
But Brad Stevens has been careful not to smother the young big man with praise –- especially not for a player who needs as much mental and emotional maturity as he does on the physical/skills side of the game.
“All depending on the situation,” Stevens said of his Williams plan. “If we have an opportunity for minutes on our team, even if they’re limited minutes, he’ll be with us.”
That said, at some point there will also be a Maine Red Claws uniform in Williams’ future.
“Probably. That’s without question what I would guess right now, what I would assume,” Stevens said. “But as long as Baynes is injured, and if we go down one more big, then he’ll play a pretty meaningful part. Nights like (Monday), you throw him in and he might change the complexion of the game. He’s done a lot of good things, and we’re happy with his progress. Whether he’s here playing limited minutes or in Maine playing a lot, he’ll keep getting better.”
Williams’ presence on the roster through the first four games of the season has been important for another reason, and especially the two home games against Philadelphia and Orlando.
He’s been able to absorb the atmosphere, and especially the crowd. Williams admits the Garden experience is unlike anything else he’s witnessed in his young life.
Asked if he’s ever experienced a comparable situation, Williams came up with an example, and corrected himself just as quickly, saying, “Maybe Kentucky a little bit, a little smaller, but that’s really nothing like the Boston crowd.
“I honestly didn’t realize how packed the games are until I’m sitting on the bench,” he said. “I actually looked at the crowd and it’s amazing, man, the atmosphere that entire night. They were standing for like, the last six minutes of the fourth quarter. Just impressive coming out and being able to play in front of a crowd with that much enthusiasm.”
A day later at practice, Williams was treated to a history lesson when players filed into the team’s plush new video theater in the Auerbach Center.
The old man with a cane sitting in front of them, Bob Cousy, began talking about the first Celtics dynasty, his relationship with Bill Russell, and some of the amazing material covered in “The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics and What Matters in The End.” The book’s author, Gary M. Pomerantz, was also on hand. Each player was given a copy.
“I wasn’t aware of (Cousy) until coach introduced him, but you have to thank guys like that,” Williams said. “He played when a lot of stuff was being fought against as far as segregation and all those other things. Guys like that paved the way for us to be at the level and standard we’re at.
“It was stressed to us, the things that he’s seen. A seven-time champ. You soak up anything you can get from him. He was talking about Russell winning 11-of-13. You have no choice but to respect people like that.
“Honestly, the background stories he told us were great, but just him even taking the time to come in, sit down and speak to us,” Williams added. “He even critiqued us on the game, and he doesn’t have to do things like that. He knows what it takes.”
For a young player at the start of his own NBA journey, the meeting with Cousy may have been as important as those four minutes of playing time on Monday night.
“I think that’s important for our 32-year-olds. Me, 42,” Stevens said. “You never get enough of that stuff. It’s just a great experience for me, for Robert, I just think it’s eye-opening.”