When Grant Williams first entered the NBA, he was scarcely a 3-point threat. After he missed the first 25 tries of his career, his teammates mocked him as “Ben Simmons,” They devised a plan – forgotten at the time by everyone but Brad Wannamaker – for him to “pass out” on the bench when he finally got one to go.
The messaging was somewhat different during Game 7 on Sunday: “I told him to let it fly,” Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said. “They’re disrespecting you tonight.”
Williams listened and shot his way into Boston legend, leading the Celtics to a 109-81 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks and into the Eastern Conference finals. His ultimate stats were 27 points, six rebounds, and two blocks on 10 of 22 field goals and 7 of 18 three-point attempts.
He achieved career highs in points, and 3-pointers made, led the Celtics in scoring for the first time in his career, broke Steph Curry’s NBA record for 3-point attempts in a Game 7, and equaled Curry’s record for 3-point makes in a Game 7.
“It’s difficult to get into your brain when your entire team, like 15 people, walks up to you and says, ‘let it fly, keep shooting,'” says one, according to Williams. “It was just like, okay, they’re promoting it, so why not take advantage? As time passed, I became more at ease and continued to photograph. I cracked a joke. I shot 18, which is probably the most 3s I’ve ever shot in a single game. It was wonderful fun, but even better that we won.”
Since head coach Mike Budenholzer took over, the Bucks’ main defensive plan has been to preserve the paint, even if it means giving up 3s. In Game 7, they leaned into that strategy, spinning a large roulette wheel in the hopes of landing on “missed 3s.” It didn’t work.
Portis broke loose in transition and went hard to the rim as the Bucks attempted in vain to make one more comeback. Williams was the only one back and said it set up, “one of those moments that you kinda have as a kid where you’re both lining each other up, and one of you’s gonna dunk on the other, or the other’s gonna block it.”
Williams came out on top and gave out a loud shout and fist pump to the joyful Celtics audience, which the cameras didn’t capture.
The Celtics’ storied playoff history is littered with unsung heroes: Don Nelson hit a game-winning jumper in the final minutes of Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals to help secure the title; Gerald Henderson’s late steal and score sent Game 2 of the 1984 Finals to overtime, and the Celtics went on to win the game and the championship. P.J. Brown came off the bench to make some clutch shots down the stretch of the Celtics’ Game 7 win of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals.
While the stakes weren’t quite as high on Sunday, it was still a Game 7 to remove the reigning champions and the best player in the world, and Williams was only in the starting lineup due to the injury to Robert Williams III. No one will forget Williams’ performance anytime soon, especially if the Celtics win another championship.
“Grant played fantastic tonight,” stated Jayson Tatum. “And you need that in the playoffs. Guys who come off the bench must be stars in their roles. Grant won a playoff game for us tonight, Game 7. I am overjoyed for him.”