Boston Celtics: Daniel Theis & Grant Williams are going to have to step up

Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams (12) Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams (12) Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Celtics first game of the postseason did not disappoint. They managed to escape Game 1 against the Brooklyn Nets with a 115-114 win thanks to a buzzer beater layup from Jayson Tatum to end the game.

The game itself, while bogged down with fouls getting called left and right, was thoroughly entertaining. Yet for the Celtics, it’s going to be extremely important that they get back to the drawing board. They managed to build up a 15 point lead midway through the third quarter, but ended up having to overcome a five point deficit late down the stretch in the fourth quarter to win.

A win is a win, but Boston is going to need to improve in a number of areas if they intend on winning three more games against Brooklyn. The Nets nearly overcame a subpar performance from Kevin Durant (23 points, but on 9-24 shooting) to pull out a huge Game 1 victory at TD Garden. Chances are Durant won’t shoot that bad again in Game 2.

While the Boston Celtics had four players score 20+ points, one area that really struggled with was their big man rotation. Al Horford had a fantastic game (20 PTS, 15 REB), but he played 41 minutes, which was second most on the team behind Tatum. Horford can’t do it all on his own, which is why Daniel Theis and Grant Williams are going to need to play better than they did in Game 1 if Boston intends on winning this series.

The Boston Celtics are counting on Daniel Theis and Grant Williams to help out Al Horford

The absence of Robert Williams in the starting lineup was viewed as a potentially catastrophic loss for the Boston Celtics, and in Game 1 we saw why. The team quite literally could not survive without Horford on the court because of how poorly Theis and Williams were playing. With the “Time Lord” in the lineup, that’s not an issue, but the big man rotation is going to be quite thin without him.

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That means Theis and Williams are going to have to play a lot better than they did yesterday afternoon. Theis got the starting nod in this one, and while he generally did an OK job defensively to neutralize Andre Drummond for Brooklyn, his offensive outing was brutal. He only shot 1-6 and scored just four points, despite being guarded by Drummond or Nic Claxton throughout, neither of whom is anything special on defense.

Again, Theis was effective in limiting Drummond for the most part, but that doesn’t mean his defense was good. For most of the first half whenever he was on the court, the Nets would screen Theis. He would either switch entirely onto the ballhandler (usually either Durant or Kyrie Irving) or just sit in the paint and leave the on-ball defender out to dry.

This play pretty much summarizes what Theis did wrong all game wrong. There’s literally no reason for him and Derrick White to switch here, but Theis decides Irving is his guy. Instead of getting up on him at the perimeter, Theis lays off of Irving, and he ends up walking his way into a wide open three point shot.

Theis was picked on all game long, and his presence on the court late in the fourth quarter nearly cost the team the game. Thankfully Ime Udoka came to his senses and swapped him out for White before it was too late.

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(Side note: there’s no doubt in my mind that the lineup to close games out should be Tatum, Horford, White, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown. Considering how Brooklyn’s big man rotation is really just Drummond and Claxton, there is literally no reason to run a double big lineup with the game on the line.)

Still, Theis finished the game as a +6 , and had he not been in foul trouble like he always seems to be, he probably would have gotten more minutes. That’s because Williams finished the game as a team worst -17, and you can make an argument Game 1 was the worst game of basketball he played this season.

As detailed by our friend Jason Haskins before the series, Williams is a massive X-Factor in this series, but yesterday afternoon he came nowhere close to helping out his team. He had seven points, but he missed all four of his three point shots, all of which were wide open. Williams is going to need to hit his threes in order to justify his presence on the court this series.

That’s because defensively, he has no real place this series. He was too small to matchup with Drummond and Claxton, and too slow to stay with Durant off the dribble. Williams was picked on pretty much everytime he was on the court, and he committed a few boneheaded fouls that ended up giving Brooklyn free throws too.

Williams is versatile defensively, but it feels like Brooklyn is a team that can expose his flaws effortlessly. He never settled in defensively, which doesn’t exactly bode well for his play-time down the line in this series. It would be one thing if he was hitting threes, but he’s been cold for some time now from behind the arc. What’s the point in playing him over Payton Pritcahrd if he’s struggling defensively?

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While it’s unlikely to happen, Udoka could conceivably run a seven man rotation where White starts and just Theis and Pritchard come off the bench. This won’t happen after just one bad game, but if Williams continues to struggle, and the series makes it’s way into six or seven game territory, it could be something for Udoka to consider.

Ultimately, unless Rob Williams makes an unexpected return, it’s going to be up to Theis and Grant Williams to take some of the pressure off of Horford in the big-man rotation. Horford bailed them out in Game 1, but he’s 35, and for him to be playing 41 minutes in the first game of the postseason isn’t exactly ideal. Being up 1-0 is good, but Theis and Williams are going to need to do more if the Boston Celtics want to continue to build on their lead.