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Grant Williams Has Emerged As An Important X-Factor For Celtics

BOSTON (CBS) --  When you look at Grant Williams, he doesn't exactly scream NBA basketball player. Especially one capable of guarding -- and stymying -- one of the most gifted scorers in the game.

But that is who Williams has become over his three years in the league, a smart and gifted competitor who plays the role the Boston Celtics need him to each and every night. He was a massive piece to Boston's Game 2 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, and one of the big reasons that Giannis Antetokounmpo has "struggled" for the first two games of the series. (Giannis struggling is merely just him being less Giannis than he usually is.)

Williams stands at 6-foot-6, but at times he plays like he's another foot taller. He uses his unique build to get into opposing player's space and stays there, even when that opposing player happens to be one of the best players on the planet. Williams was once again all over Antetokounmpo on Tuesday night, forming a wall that the dominant Bucks wrecking ball couldn't dent. It was a gigantic performance for the Celtics, who were without reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart because of a quad injury.

The Boston defense was still in lockdown mode despite Smart's absence, holding the Bucks to just 86 points in Game 2. While Giannis ended the game with 28 points, he needed 27 shot attempts to get there. Giannis is always going to get his points in the end, but making it difficult is the key for any opponent to beat Milwaukee.

The Celtics certainly did that, and did so with Williams and Al Horford going one-on-one with Giannis. Celtics head coach Ime Udoka even likened Williams to a "mini Al" following the victory, an extremely appropriate nickname for the undersized forward.

"We talked about guarding him a little more one-on-one, and we feel like we have the defensive guys to do it," Udoka said after the win. "Obviously he came out extra aggressive in the second half scoring 28 on 27 shots. We were defending well initially, and Grant's a big part of that. We got four guys we feel comfortable throwing at him. Jaylen and Jayson are bigger wings as well so we can throw a lot of bodies, and that's one of Grant's many strengths is trying guys like that -- him and Al."

"I view it as guarding him on an island. It's just you and him and you have to do your job," Williams said of his Giannis duties. "He started to be a lot more aggressive in the second half and got downhill, but you just have to hunker down and trust the work that you've done and do your best to contain one of the best players in the world."

Antetokounmpo also turned the ball over six times on Tuesday night, which the Celtics turned into nine points. He was even thrown off when Williams or Horford weren't on him, stepping out of bounds when he had a ridiculously favorable matchup with Payton Pritchard. He has 11 turnovers over the first two games.

That happens for a guy who has the ball in his hands so much, and Giannis did dish out seven assists on Tuesday. But the Celtics have kept him from really lighting up the scoreboard points-wise, holding him to 20-for-52 shooting, a mere 38 percent. That is average for a mere mortal, but not the guy known as the Greek Freak who is coming off shooting 58 percent against the Bulls in the first round.

And Williams was more than just a defensive bastion on Tuesday. He scored a career-best 21 points off 7-for-14 shooting, including an incredible 6-for-9 showing from downtown. In addition to his defensive prowess, Williams has become a threat with the ball, a valuable asset in Boston's drive-and-dish offense.

The Celtics have plenty of two-way star power with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and they hope to have Marcus Smart back for Saturday's Game 3. But Grant Williams has emerged as an important X-factor, and if he keeps forcing Giannis into some more Un-Giannis-like performances, he could be an important key to Boston winning the series.

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