BOSTON — Grant Williams has showcased his noteworthy development throughout the 2021-22 season, his third campaign in the league, but when the lights were the brightest in Game 7 against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Boston Celtics forward had a signature moment.
Williams acknowledged it wasn’t something he could have imagined after his first or second year in the league.
“If you asked me last year, I probably would be head down, keep it moving,” Williams said after Boston’s 108-81 victory at TD Garden on Sunday. “But I think the work that I’ve put in over the past year and a half, two years, since I’ve been in the league, has helped me be in this position.”
Williams, who was a 25% 3-point shooter in his rookie season only to shoot less than two attempts per game during his sophomore campaign, broke an NBA record with 18 attempts (7-for-18) from beyond the arc in Game 7. Now a true 3-and-D specialist, Williams finished with a game-high 27 points on 10-for-22 from the field while making a game-high seven treys.
It’s a product of hard work for Williams, who Celtics head coach Ime Udoka challenged to become a better 3-point shooter entering the season. Williams answered that by consistently getting his attempts up in practice or before the game both prior to and during Boston’s remarkable in-season turnaround.
“There’s just a lot of work from the guys that I’ve been around, whether it’s my coaching staff at Tennessee, the coaching staff here at the Celtics,” Williams said. “Something I knew that I would have to add another arsenal to expand and be consistent in this game and play at this level. So it’s just a matter of the years that I’ve spent and shots I’ve taken. And also a credit to the people who have really supported me along that way.”
Williams concluded his third season shooting 41% from 3-point range while nearly doubling his makes per game (1.4) since just last season.
“I’ve worked on my shot enough to be able to knock those down and be confident enough to shoot it,” Williams said. “I think my teammates know if I get 18 of them I’m going to make 40 percent of them, at least.”
Those points from deep were among the starkest contrasts in the series-clinching verdict. The Celtics shot 40% (22-for-55) from 3-point land in Game 7 while the Bucks shot an abysmal 12% (4-for-33) from beyond the arc. Every contest Boston shot over 38% from long range during the conference semifinal series — Game 2 (47%), Game 4 (38%), Game 6 (40%) and Game 7 (40%) — the Celtics earned a win.
It’s not as if Williams got off to a hot start in the series finale, though. He actually missed a pair of disheartening open looks in the early minutes, which prompted a groan or two from those at TD Garden. Williams, however, stuck with it as the Bucks made it clear they were willing to give him to open jumper as a means to locking down the paint. Udoka and Celtics teammates made sure Williams kept his confidence, and it led to a handful of momentum-building jumpers in the second half.
“It’s tough to get into your head when your entire team, like 15 people, walk up to you and say keep shooting,” Williams said. “It was just like, they are encouraging it so it was like, might as well take advantage of each one.”
Udoka added: “I told him him, ‘Let it fly. They’re disrespecting you more (Sunday) than earlier in the series.'”
And Sunday’s matchup wasn’t the lone time this postseason Williams had come up big with his shooting. Williams scored 17 points (3-for-3 from deep) in Game 2 against the Nets, 14 points (4-for-6) as Boston swept Brooklyn in Game 4 and 21 points (6-for-9) in a Game 2 win against Milwaukee.
Williams’ two-way performance Sunday, which went for a team-best rating of plus-25 with six rebounds and two blocks, helped the Celtics come up with their biggest stand against adversity all season. Boston, following a devastating Game 5 loss at TD Garden, came away with consecutive wins before taking the series five days after hopes were nearly dashed.
That was not something Williams, along with teammate Jayson Tatum, was surprised about, however.
“We knew we were going to preserve. We new we have a group that is going to accept adversity and for us it was just a matter of staying consistent,” Williams said. “We hadn’t put a full game together this entire series so we just say ‘Why not now? Why not put it all together?'”
That’s exactly what the Celtics were able to do in large part because their third-year forward showcased his individual improvements.