Twenty-three years ago, Allan Houston was the last Vol to play rotation minutes in the NBA Finals. He did more than that: Houston would make the All-Star Game the next two seasons and play on the U.S. Olympic team. And he had already been responsible for getting the Knicks past the Miami Heat in round one:
The 1999 season was shortened by a lockout, and a 50-game regular season produced some strange playoff match-ups. That included the Knicks barely getting in as an eight seed, then dispatching the one-seed Heat on Houston’s shot. New York went all the way to the Finals from there, losing Patrick Ewing to injury along the way. Still, anything seemed possible, especially in the first year of a post-Jordan-Bulls league.
Standing in the way were the San Antonio Spurs, a fresh-faced Gregg Popovich making his first Finals appearance. The Spurs took the first two games with relative ease, sending the series to Madison Square Garden for the first time in five years.
In Game 3, Allan Houston exploded: 34 points, four assists, and an 89-81 victory. The stage was set for a compelling series.
But that would be as close as it got: San Antonio won Game 4 by seven, and closed out the Knicks behind 31 points from young Tim Duncan in Game 5. For the Knicks in particular, Houston’s heroics still represent a high point the franchise hasn’t come close to duplicating since.
Grant Williams is not Allan Houston. But he’s now closer to a ring than any rotation Vol in the NBA in these last 23 years. And not only was he vital in Game 7 against Milwaukee in round two, he was involved in a key sequence for Boston in Game 3 last night.
In the first two games, the matchup with Golden State was less ideal for Williams. He averaged 32 minutes in the Milwaukee series and 30 against Miami, but played just 16 minutes in Game 1 of the Finals and 21 minutes in Game 2.
He only got 20 minutes in Game 3, but he made the most of them.
The Celtics were up a dozen at halftime and pushed it to 14 early in the third quarter. It was still at nine midway through the period. That’s when one of the more unusual sequences I’ve ever seen unfolded: Steph Curry hit a three, and Al Horford was called for a foul for being in his landing area. Upon review, the foul was deemed flagrant, giving Curry a four-point play and the Warriors possession…and Otto Porter Jr. buried another three, giving Golden State a seven-point possession. Just like that, a nine point lead was two.
A Curry three actually put Golden State in front, but Boston rallied. The Celtics were back on top 89-86 with 90 seconds to play in the third. And that’s when Grant said hello:
Grant’s offensive rebound and free throw was immediately followed by his corner three, putting Boston back up seven. And his final putback with nine minutes to play put the Celtics back up double figures. All told, Grant finished with 10 points and 5 rebounds. Draymond Green, generally loud and specifically entangled with Williams earlier in the game, fouled out with two points and four rebounds in 35 minutes.
The Celtics are up 2-1, with Game 4 on Friday night. Williams has now appeared in 43 playoff games in his three-year career with the Celtics, moving into fourth place all-time at UT for NBA Playoff appearances:
NBA Playoff Appearances by Former Vols
- Dale Ellis, 73 games (17 year career)
- Allan Houston, 63 games (12 years)
- C.J. Watson, 48 games (10 years)
- Grant Williams, 43 games (3 years)
It’s a gift for your favorite Vols to end up on teams that can win championships. The Celtics are two wins away. And if they get there, Grant Williams will have his fingerprints on the trophy in more ways than one.