Nets' Kyrie Irving, James Harden Praise Celtics' Robert Williams After Game 1

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVMay 23, 2021

BROOKLYN, NY -  MAY 22: Robert Williams III #44 of the Boston Celtics rebounds the ball against the Brooklyn Nets during Round 1, Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on May 22, 2021 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Brooklyn Nets stars James Harden and Kyrie Irving praised Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III for his strong defensive performance Saturday in Game 1 of the teams' first-round playoff series.

"He contested everything, both at the rim and on the perimeter," Harden told reporters after the Nets' 104-93 comeback victory. "... He's one of the reasons why we didn't shoot so well."

Irving added: "We'll be more aware going into Game 2. He's shifting over on every one of our drives. His timing is amazing."

Williams nearly recorded a triple-double off the bench in the series opener, tallying 11 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks in just 23 minutes.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Robert Williams is EVERYWHERE 🖐<br><br>Already has 7 blocks <br><br>(via @NBA)pic.twitter.com/W4LgVo7JsF

The 23-year-old Texas A&M product has put together occasional standout performances since the Celtics selected him in the first round of the 2018 draft, but he's struggled to earn extensive playing time, with the NBA trending away from traditional post players over the past decade.

He ranked ninth among all qualified NBA players in Player Efficiency Rating (25.71) during the regular season, but his averages of 8.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks don't jump off the page since he played just 18.9 minutes per game.

Saturday's outing showed the type of game-changing impact Williams can make, especially at the defensive end, but he wasn't in a celebratory mood after the loss.

"It don't mean s--t if we're losing," he told reporters.

Williams, who played through a toe injury in recent weeks, likely earned himself a bigger role for the remainder of the series with his strong showing in Game 1.

The Celtics couldn't hold off the Nets' star-studded offense long enough to open the series with an upset, though. Brooklyn erased a six-point halftime deficit by outscoring Boston by 11 in the third quarter and cruised to the finish line to maintain home-court advantage.

It was still a great defensive game for the C's, who held Harden, Irving, Kevin Durant and the rest of the Nets to 41.7 percent shooting from the field, including 23.5 percent on threes.

Boston will look to maintain that strong defense while trying to improve its own offensive efficiency (36.9 percent shooting in Game 1) to level the series Tuesday night.