The Boston Celtics have owned the best record in the NBA for almost the entire season, but the team is suddenly starting to slip after the All-Star break. Boston’s struggles in the symbolic second half continued on Monday night when they lost the Cleveland Cavaliers, 118-114, in overtime. It’s the third straight loss for the Celtics, and their fourth loss in the last five games.
The loss was especially rough for Grant Williams. Williams had a chance to win the game in regulation when he went to the foul line for two shots with the score tied at 109 and under one second remaining on the clock. As Williams stepped to the line, Cavs star Donovan Mitchell walked up to him and tried to psyche him out. Williams appeared to respond by saying “I’m going to make both.”
Of course, he missed both, and the Celtics would lose in overtime.
Cleveland head coach JB Bickerstaff iced Williams with a timeout after he missed the first one. The long wait before the second shot accomplished its mission by getting in Williams’ head, and he proceeded to miss the second shot, too.
The tip by Marcus Smart fell just short. The Cavs would win the game in overtime.
Williams was one of the breakout role players on the Celtics’ surprising run to the NBA Finals last season. Boston ultimately fell two wins short of a championship, but the toughness, defense, and floor spacing Williams provided made him feel indispensable. While Williams has still been very good this year, he’s scoring slightly less efficiently, is turning the ball over more often, and just overall feels like he’s pressing a little bit. Williams isn’t just playing a championship, he’s also playing for a new contract this summer. He’s reported seeking $20 million per season. It’s easy to find fans mocking him for that request with a quick search of Twitter.
The Celtics have suddenly fallen two games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 1 seed in the East. The Bucks and Celtics appear to be on a collision court for the Eastern Conference Finals, and it would really hurt Boston if a potential Game 7 in that series was played on Milwaukee’s home floor. The Celtics famously beat the Bucks — without injured wing Khris Middleton — in Game 7 of their second round playoff series last year in Boston.
The Celtics are good enough to pull themselves out of this brief funk. They need Williams playing like the best version of himself to make it happen.