Romeo Langford, Rob Williams make case for more opportunity in win over Nets

(Ashley Landis/Getty Images)

The Celtics are going to need Romeo Langford to contribute in order to get to the NBA Finals.

That may seem like an extreme statement for a rookie who barely got off the bench for the first three Celtics games in the Orlando bubble over the past week but it’s a factual one. At some point in September in all likelihood, Gordon Hayward is going to leave Orlando for the birth of his son and miss at least two games of a critical series (if the Celtics are still playing at that point).

Some of Hayward’s minutes will be distributed among the starters and Marcus Smart, but someone else is going to have to pick up some of that playing time and defensive versatility that Hayward provides.

For that reason, it was a little bit surprising to see Langford ride the pine so much over the past week in Orlando after a couple of encouraging games in scrimmages. He had been a steady defensive contributor over the second half of the season for Boston but still found himself stuck behind the likes of Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams even while Boston’s defense struggled with those guys on the court.

Seeking a spark on Wednesday night against the Nets, Brad Stevens wisely went deeper into his bench for some untapped youth with upside. Langford was the first sub into the game in the first quarter and Rob Williams saw his first meaningful action in Orlando a minute later. Less than a quarter later, the duo helped propel Boston to a 20-point lead that sustained all night.

“I thought the energy, overall, was good, for our whole team,” Stevens said of the win. “Thought we came out and played the right way. I thought the second unit, obviously, did a lot of good things. Romeo’s defense was excellent. Rob, obviously, gave us a lot once he got settled in, defensively, and then, offensively, he gave us a lot at the rim all day. On down the line.”

Let’s examine the efforts of Langford and Williams for a better sense of what went well and whether it means anything down the line for the C’s when they return to full strength with Kemba Walker back in the lineup.

Romeo Langford
4 points (1/3 FG, 2/2 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, +27 in 26 minutes

Analysis: Timelord will get the limelight because of his career-best numbers but the bigger development in this game was Langford when it comes to potential playoff contributions. The Celtics are a team right now looking for defensive energy and consistency and Langford provided both in the first half. Opposing guards and wings have been lightening up the C’s on various nights all year and Langford is a viable option to slow them down after Smart.

He’s much faster than Semi Ojeleye or Grant Williams on the perimeter and provides good length as evidenced by his two blocks on the night. Caris LeVert had a ho-hum game overall (13 points) after destroying the C’s back in March and Langford’s defense was a factor on that front. The Celtics need defenders to who can stay with their man on the drive and Langford has been doing that just about as well as anyone on this team lately.

“I thought he was giving us good minutes right before the hiatus,” Stevens said of Langford. “He’s a good worker, he’s one of our more solid defenders. That’s going to give him a chance to play, especially with the way we’ve played the first couple of weeks.”

With a high defensive ability for a rookie, the main drawback for the 20-year-old right now is on the offensive end. Langford has shown some improvement on that front over the past couple weeks compared to earlier this year. He’s showing better vision on his drives and attacking the paint with more force. The jump shot is still a big question mark but he’s a guy who isn’t going to overstep his role and steal shots from others. On a night where the C’s had it going offensively, Langford stayed out of the way and took just three shots, while setting up a couple nicely for others.

Playing good defense against an undermanned Nets squad is a far different situation than trying to do it against an elite East team like the Bucks or Raptors but Stevens should be throwing Langford to the wolves a bit more over these remaining seeding games. Other bench contributors at forward (Ojeleye, Grant Williams) are known commodities at this point and don’t present the upside that Langford can provide in certain spots. The Celtics need to figure out if they can trust him in bigger spots so this is the time for him to show what he can do in a regular bench role.

Rob Williams

18 points (7/7 FG, 4/4 FT), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, +21 in 19 minutes
Analysis: Timelord was firmly planted as No. 4 in the center rotation to begin the Orlando bubble (behind Theis,