Celtics center Robert Williams blocks a shot by Pelicans forward Zion Williamson during a game in February. Williams leads the Celtics in blocked shots despite averaging less than 16 minutes per game. Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

The road to extended opportunity has been a slow journey for Robert Williams with the Boston Celtics.

For the last two years, injuries have been the primary obstacle, including a hip issue that kept him sidelined for more than half of the 2019-20 regular season. A breakout postseason in 2020 against the Raptors made Williams look like a guy ready to take on a bigger role this season, but the offseason acquisition of Tristan Thompson put a wrench in those plans for much of the first two months, leaving Williams third on the depth chart again behind Thompson and Daniel Theis.

With the Celtics dropping two games below .500 last week and the team’s bench offense looking overmatched as injuries piled up to other key players in the rotation, however, there has been a shift in the pecking order. More opportunity has arrived for Williams, and with it has come added production from the athletic big man.

Williams was front and center as a key contributor in Tuesday’s 117-112 win over the Clippers, stuffing the sheet with 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks in just 22 minutes. Those 22 minutes were just one shy of his season-high and included some pivotal action during the closing minutes of a tight game in the fourth quarter.

Williams’ offensive upside has earned him a longer look, as the center is shooting 71 percent from the field, the second-highest number in the NBA among players that attempt four shots per game.

Whether it’s his offensive rebounds, putbacks or his lob finishes, Williams is giving the Celtics a dynamic added option on offense, and his numbers are steadily increasing as he’s been giving more opportunity.

In Boston’s current three-game winning streak, Williams is averaging 11 points on 72.2 percent shooting from the field. His all-around numbers (8.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.7 bpg) are also sensational in that stretch, with a five-minute boost in his minutes per game (20.7) leading to terrific production.

“He’s on a great trajectory, really helping us,” Coach Brad Stevens said Tuesday night. “One of the things about Rob that sometimes does not get talked about enough is that he’s a competitor. He wants to win, he plays hard, goes after rebounds, and he’s learning how to take advantage of what he does best at both ends of the floor.”

While the learning curve for Williams is still far from complete when it comes to handling big moments, and at times on the defensive end, his upside offensively and his shot-blocking ability have his star teammates excited about the possibilities he opens up for the team.

“I mean, Rob’s development since he’s gotten here has been pretty damn good,” said Jaylen Brown. “He’s really carved out a great role, not just on this team but in this league, and as he’s gotten more consistent minutes, we can see his play continue to emerge. We still like to challenge him game to game to be locked in defensively and everything, but in terms of where he started at to where he’s at now, the sky’s the limit. He’s going to continue to get better, and the more we put him on the floor, I think the better he’s going to get. So we’re looking forward to that.”

“That kid, man, he’s unbelievably talented,” Kemba Walker added. “He’s just improving every single day and he’s huge for our team, especially over the course of the last couple of games. He’s been amazing to watch, he’s been amazing to be on the court with.”

Theis remains the primary closer for the Celtics at center, but there are going to be plenty of nights when the big man doesn’t have it offensively, such as Tuesday against the Clippers. With Thompson struggling more defensively this year than the team expected, he’s no longer the default option as an alternative in the middle to Theis late in games. Instead, Williams has been given a chance to help maximize floor spacing by crashing the paint as a lob threat and offensive rebounder, putting added pressure on interior defenses. There have been and will continue to be growing pains, but the offensive potential is looking more and more like it’s worth the defensive risk.

“Being on the floor in crunch time really is a major learning situation for me,” Williams admitted “I obviously want to make the right decisions, but the more I’m out there, the more comfortable I get.”

Consistency is the next step for Williams in this process, particularly on the defensive end, and he has a long way to go on that front to earn the full trust of the coaching staff. However, for a Celtics team that is winning games this year more on the strength of its offense rather than slowing opponents down with defense, Williams is a weapon to help maximize that attack and potentially create the best version of the Celtics this year.

“I’m not surprising myself at all because I know what I’m capable of,” he said. “Like I said, it’s being out there, getting the time, not necessarily focusing on making the perfect play every time. Just playing your game.”

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