Celtics Notebook: Rob Williams reaches for maturity

Beyond the eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks — his chase-down swat of Zion Williamson in overtime will surely be added to the personal highlight reel — Robert Williams is starting to play with great maturity.

“Rob is continuing to improve night in and night out,” Jayson Tatum said after the Celtics’ 120-115 overtime loss to New Orleans. “I think he’s understanding the game more and it’s showing with his productivity out there on the court. And he’s tough to guard because he gets out of the roll quick, obviously can play really high above the rim. He has an amazing feel for the game. When he tips it out, or rebounds, he can get in a roll and know where to pass it. Rob’s really, really good and he’s gonna help us out the more opportunities that he gets.”

But the experience would be that much better if Williams’ team wasn’t lost in this relentless yo-yo cycle.

“Feel like the situation we’ve been in, like the slump, one person makes a mistake, they’re quick to get down on themselves and they’re quick to drop their head, but that’s what you’ve got teammates for,” Williams said of what often goes wrong. “I was like, maybe I’m messing up, maybe we’re messing up bad right now, but it’s all about the team. We’ve got to stay together to win. Nobody can get down on themselves.”

Fighting through it

Williams will continue to be monitored for a sore left hip — an injury that recently forced him to miss two straight games. The idea is to preserve Williams, who played 21 minutes Sunday, for increased playing time later in the season.

“The hip is not bothering him, but we’re just trying to manage it over the course of the long season so that he’s available more often than not, and then able to peak in minutes late,” said Brad Stevens. “So I guess it’s more of a just be alert to it. Obviously he had the two games that he sat out because it was bothering him, but we’re just alert to it.

“Like I’ve said before, we’re in a good position with him from the standpoint that I think he’s getting a lot better, I think he’s doing a lot of good things. He makes a big impact on our team. And I think as the season progresses, and this is just another thing that you try to keep in the back of your mind from my seat is like, we need him to be able to play higher minutes as the season gets later. And so right now, I guess you would call that managing it appropriately. But certainly, it helps when all three bigs are available.

Smart update

Marcus Smart, whose return is no clearer as the guard rehabilitates a tear in his left calf, is on the three-game trip that started Sunday in New Orleans.

But Stevens doesn’t know how these workouts fit in Smart’s murky timeline.

“He’s been going at a decent rate the last few days,” said the Celtics coach. “I don’t know what that means for the rest of the trip, or what he’s going to be allowed to do (Monday) if we decide to go with a small practice. But he is on the trip.”

Testing challenges

Constant coronavirus testing gets all the more complex when a team plays a day game, like Sunday’s against the Pelicans.

“Yeah, it’s really significant, just because our guys have to test at 11 p.m. before the afternoon games the night before, and then again in the morning,” said Stevens. “And so, whereas generally you’d go testing at 5 for a night game and then you’d go testing late morning. So the 11 p.m. is the biggest difference from a testing standpoint. But I think for most guys, we’ve played enough afternoon games, or a couple afternoon games now, I think we’re probably more used to it, but that’s the unique part of playing in the afternoon with the testing.”

As evidenced by the Celtics’ loss in Washington on Feb. 14, day games have been a nagging problem for this team.

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