BOSTON – When Robert Williams feels good, the Celtics look good.
And in Game Three of the NBA Finals, he and the Celtics looked great.
But with Williams continuing to deal with soreness in his left knee that has bothered him backwards and dislocations for more than two months, and with the shortest between-game break in this series coming between games three and four, his knee health is heading into Friday. The game is something Boston watches.
“I feel really good this morning,” Williams said after training Thursday afternoon. “One of the best days. Like I said, ups and downs, but I feel good.
“extra [rest days] helps. But it goes up and down so we have to read it day in and day out. Last night, you’re right, I was feeling pretty good.”
This was evident from the way Williams was playing. He finished with 8 points, 10 rebounds and four blocking shots, but the biggest number in his stat streak was a team-best plus-21 at 25 minutes—more of an eye test for his effect on actions.
Williams was in the middle of everything the Bostonians did well, with his energy representing the different level of strength the Celtics played after being pushed back by the Golden State Warriors for extended periods of their loss in the second game.
It was the latest example of his importance to Boston, with Celtics coach Im Odoka describing Williams as a prototype for the “modern-day NBA center”.
“I think he’s always high-profile, he’s a very instinctive guy,” Odoka said. “Some of the things we asked him to do were different than what he had to do throughout his career. I think he’s off the top, the amount of switching and ambient play, but he’s a guy who can do it. I’ve played against him in two playoffs. [as an assistant coach] In Philadelphia and Brooklyn, he saw his influence on those soap operas. A guy we wanted to keep away from a lot of events.
“Obviously the edge of protection stands out, but his ability to move his feet on the perimeter and the luxury of keeping him off the ball at times and allowing Al [Horford] To kind of have our normal 5 reported to our team. A very multidimensional defender with really good instincts. I’d say he’s the center of the modern-day NBA – a little petite, he can move his feet, guard on the perimeter, guard in the center, and obviously rim protection is what he’s always naturally done. A huge luxury for us.”
It’s a luxury that has proven to be a key part of Boston’s title hopes over the course of the series. Confronting one of Stephen Curry’s most outstanding offensive players in NBA history, it was the only time the Celtics showed any ability to weaken their momentum with Williams on the court.
Since having meniscus surgery on his left knee late in the regular season, he suffered a bone bruise in that knee during the Boston Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Milwaukee Bucks. How he felt from game to game has changed. On top of missing the last three games of the Bucks series and the third game of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, he has been repeatedly included in the injury report.
When he felt satisfied, it was a huge boost for Boston. And as the Celtics attempt a 3-1 lead — and in doing so, won back-to-back games at home in this post-season for the first time since sweeping the Brooklyn Nets in the first round — they’ll be hoping for a knee. It responds well for a day.
“Robert changes everything,” Horford said. “It’s great to see him able to play and show him some of the things he can do, how he can affect the game. Just having him, the people in the league, everyone, we all know each other. With him, he can influence the shots. He is able to impede the jumping shots. , and people come in the aisle, and they have to think about it just because he’s there.
“Even on the outside, he’s doing really well getting out there and competing. For me, I’m enjoying being able to watch him play and have some success. I know he’s obviously playing through a lot of things, and I’m just so happy to see him succeed now” .