One area where Nick Nurse won the battle in Game 3 of the Celtics-Raptors series was in the desperation game. After watching his bench largely fall flat all series beyond Serge Ibaka, he decided that he needed to ride any offensive momentum in the must-win contest. For Game 3, that was Kyle Lowry, who came out of the gate with 10 points in the first quarter thanks to an aggressive array of moves towards the rim.
Ultimately, Lowry played a season-high 46 minutes and all of the final 32 minutes of the game, which helped the All-Star point guard rally Toronto from a 10-point deficit ahead of a shocking 104-103 win.
While Nurse was wisely riding hot hands in Game 3, Brad Stevens did a little bit of experimentation in the second half. He gave Enes Kanter his first appearance of the season over Rob Williams midway through the third quarter even after the Raptors had already started out the second half hot. Kanter only played four minutes in the third before getting yanked but Toronto proceeded to score 14 points in that stretch to tie up the game.
The decision to give Kanter a shot in this series didn’t seem to come out of desperation. It was simply an idea to mix things up after the C’s came out flat at the start of the half according to the head coach.
“I thought his rebounding would help us,” Stevens said after the loss. “I thought we started the third quarter really low. I just didn’t think we played well. We gave up four layups right out of the gate. They’re switching up defenses obviously. They have long, athletic guys that can do it, they have smart guys. The way they play man they’re used to rotating and scrambling and all that stuff, so I thought we attacked it better as the game went on. But they mixed it up. They had some triangle, they played some zone, they’ve got the guard in the middle of the zone, they played obviously a lot of man, mixed up their matchups. It’s one of those games, like the previous two, where you have to be ready to attack different things at different times.”
Whether or not Stevens was simply trying to keep Kanter engaged after two straight DNP-CDs is certainly something worth considering. However, sending in your worst defensive player in the midst of a bad defensive start to the half is generally never a good idea, especially in the postseason.
Perhaps more importantly, giving Kanter a chance took some opportunity away from someone who has quietly been one of the best players in this series in Rob Williams.
Despite shooting 91.7 percent from the field in the series (11-of-12), Williams minutes have been on a steady decline in each game of the series.
Game 1: 18
Game 2: 17
Game 3: 13
Williams did not provide the offensive boost in Game 3 (only 3 points) that we saw with his double-digit scoring nights in the first two games but he did pluck seven rebounds in 13 minutes and dished out a career-high three assists with a number of good looks that led to open shots out of an initial pick-and-roll. His rolling threat has led to the Raptors to start prioritizing protecting the lane against him and that is opening up outlet passes. Williams has shown himself capable of making those passes in this series.
Perhaps most importantly though is Williams offensive impact when he’s on the floor. Here’s the Celtics offensive rating when he’s on the court
Rob Williams: 119.4 points per 100 possessions (1st on team)
Daniel Theis: 94.9 points per 100 possessions (8th on team)
That’s not to say Theis doesn’t have great value in this series. The Celtics defense is miles better when he’s on the floor over Williams.
Celtics defensive rating with player on court
Daniel Theis: 90.2 points allowed per 100 possessions
Rob Williams: 110.1 points per 100 possessions
Enes Kanter: 175 points per 100 possessions (four minutes)
Williams is a drawback defensively but his pros are still outweighing his cons in this series as evidence by his +9.4 net rating (C’s are +5.2 with him on the bench).
Despite these numbers and the fact Williams was a +13 in the team’s seeding game battle back in early August, Williams’ minutes remain in line with the rest of the bench regulars in this series so far.
R. Williams: 50
G. Williams: 45
If the Celtics offense starts to sputter as it did in the second half of Game 3, Stevens is better off turning to Timelord over Theis (86 minutes in series) earlier and perhaps for more extended stretches. Conditioning has been an issue at times for Rob Williams so shorter stints but more of them might be the answer to keep him fresh. Getting him on the floor more with at least one of Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart is crucial as well given that the Celtics are scoring 128 points per 100 possessions when Williams is on the court with either of the crafty point guards.
With a crucial Game 4 looming on Saturday night that will swing the series one way or another, Stevens needs to start to coach