Robert Williams III Proving To Be The Boston Celtics’ Watershed

Per Yaron Weitzman
FOX Sports NBA Writer

BOSTON — In the hours leading up to the whistleblower, as he jumped and ran across the wooden floor of the TD Garden, Robert Williams III he felt, well, not very good, but better than he had in weeks. “A little looser” is how he would later describe it.

He was gifted for three days between Games 2 and 3 and spent that break tending to his left knee. Stretching. Frosting. Stimulant. Napping – or rather, as a parent of two young children, at least trying.

“Sometimes I try to take a nap before the game and I hear little knocks on the door,” he said.

Williams first injured his knee in March when a meniscus tear ruled him out of the last seven games of the regular season and the first two of the playoffs. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with a bone bruise on the same knee. The injury grounded him for the final three games of the Boston Celtics’ conference semifinals battle with the Milwaukee Bucks and Game 3 against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Williams came back, but he looked like a shell of himself. The slender, bouncing, running and guarding force (he stands at 6 feet but has a wingspan of 6 feet) that propelled the Celtics during their dominant run in the second half of the season is gone. He was slow. He was stuck to the ground. He was the only weak link in the Celtics’ suffocating defense. The injury left him unplayable.

But the Celtics — specifically, first-year coach Ime Udoka — spent the season pushing Williams to feel more comfortable playing through the pain. “If you can go, we’ll take 20 percent of you. Better than any of you,” Celtics point guard Marcus Smart told Williams recently.

And in the Celtics’ 116-100 Game 3 win over the Warriors on Wednesday, Williams gave his team much more than that. He was everywhere on the ground – slamming a kick in one possession, deterring a jumper in another, hitting the boards, diving to the ground, punishing the Warriors for trying to play small.

“He decided to go in there and put on his big boy pants, suck and go crazy,” Smart said later.

Williams racked up eight points and 10 rebounds with four blocks and three steals, while the Celtics outscored the Warriors by 21 points in their 26 minutes on the ground.

“He’s a game-changer,” Celtics forward Al Horford said after the game. “Rob is really a game changer. We’re so lucky to have a guy like that who impacts victory the way he does because it’s beyond numbers with him. It’s just all the things he brings, being on the right path places. .”

Three games into this series, it’s becoming clear that Williams’ health and production could very well be the guide for the Celtics. When it’s on, they seem unbeatable. That was the case in their Game 1 in San Francisco: he dropped eight points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked four shots in 24 minutes of action.

In Game 2, he was limited to two points, two rebounds and two blocks in 14 minutes. The Celtics lost by 19.

Williams is an integral part of everything Boston does on both ends of the court. He was at the center of his rapid mid-season turnaround. Udoka’s decision to adjust his defensive scheme mid-season and start putting Williams on the opponent’s weakest pitcher, a move to free him up to fly to the rim, was one of the reasons the Celtics ended the season with the best in the league. -Ranked defense. His mere presence has the ability to scare away opposing gunners.

“We talked about just being aware of where he is because, especially depending on who he’s guarding, he can come out of nowhere,” Warriors point guard Stephen Curry said after Game 3. “There’s a play early in the quarter. , I passed Grant Williams and thought I had daylight to make a shot, and you underestimate how athletic he was and how much he could be bothered by that shot.”

But Robert Williams has also become more than just a rim protector, at least when he’s healthy and at his best. This was evident throughout Game 3. Just check the box score. Look for the areas where the Celtics have excelled and you will see their brand.

Beating the Warriors 47-31? Check! Defeat them in the offensive glass 15-6? Check! (Williams had three). Beating them in paint 52-26? As you can see in the tweet below, check it out!

Or how about the 23-11 run in the fourth quarter, which came after the Warriors returned to the game with one of their signature third-quarter blasts? This explosion was driven by a barrage of bombs from Curry and Klay Thompson. So, entering the fourth quarter, the Celtics adjusted their defense.

“We’ve got to change it up a little more,” Udoka said, “and that’s asking a lot of Rob and Al and those guys. They’ve been doing it all year, but with Rob being a little underdog and getting there, you’ve got to work a little else to hang out in Curry, with the range these guys have. For him, it worked tonight.”

The Warriors connected in just one of nine fourth quarter looks.

The question now is whether Williams can keep that up. There’s only one day off before Game 4. And the minutes will keep adding up.

“Throw some stuff at him, see how he reacts,” he said over his knee after Wednesday’s game. He limped into the media conference room, just as he had for the past few weeks. A reporter asked what he learned about himself from overcoming the pain.

“Just trying to be responsible for my team,” he replied. “We’ve come this far. I’m happy with what’s going on. We’ll worry about the injury after the season, but for now, I’m still struggling.”

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the most audacious process in professional sports history”.” Follow him on Twitter @Yaron Weitzman.

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