Boston Celtics

Robert Williams III Again Shows Why He's Key Piece to Celtics' Title Chances

Forsberg: Time Lord again shows why he's key piece to Celtics' title chances originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Robert Williams III is the most important piece of the Boston Celtics puzzle as the team braces for another run at Banner 18.

He is not the most talented and he won’t play the biggest role. But Williams III is almost undeniably most vital. Even while playing just a small role in the two games since returning from a hamstring injury, Williams III has elevated the team’s defensive intensity and stabilized a Celtics squad whose wheels get wobbly whenever he’s not available.

If your skeptical because of the byline on this article -- and we will forever admit our Timelord bias -- maybe hearing it from one of the superstars of the team will amplify this decree.

"Rob is fantastic. Rob is the key,” said Jaylen Brown. "We’ve just got to keep Rob healthy, keep his mindset strong, keep finding him when he gets to the basket, But he’s such an impactful player on both ends of the floor. So any time he’s out there he makes our team a lot better.”

If Brown is the energy shifter, Williams III is the energy lifter. He delivers a joy that no other player on the team can provide with the way he plays. His awesome per 36 is off the charts.

On Friday night against the Pacers, Williams III filled up his box score with four points, eight rebounds, three blocks, three steals and one assist in just 15:30 of playing time. He had one dazzling 6-minute stint in the third quarter in which he delivered two of his highlight blocks and was an absolute menace defensively as the Celtics ripped open the game.

"I think when you have a guy like that, it obviously jolts your defensive joy, I guess you could say, to be a little bit more aggressive because you just feel that,” said coach Joe Mazzulla. "Rob has an intangible where guys just feel protected because of his ability to do that. And so it definitely ups our guys' intensity defensively.”

The Celtics’ defense ranks 4th in the NBA allowing 111.0 points per 100 possessions. But it had slipped coming out of the All-Star break. Williams III’s return has the Celtics playing with a defensive intensity that more closely resembles last year’s defense-first team.

The Celtics’ defensive rating is 106.3 with Williams III on the court, best among regulars. The team’s rebound rate skyrockets to beyond league-best levels with Williams III and the Celtics don’t give up the maddening second-chance points that tend to be a main storyline in recent losses.

Williams III’s presence just changes the way the team plays. Perimeters can be more aggressive and, even when they get beat off the dribble, Williams III is often there as a backline safety net.

In Sacramento, Derrick White got switched onto big man Domantas Sabonis, who had immediate plans to get to the rim. That was until Williams III shuffled over with help defense and Sabonis threw the ball away trying to kick it out to the perimeter.

Celtics-Pacers takeaways: The Jays assert their dominance in blowout win

Against the Pacers, White got bowled over trying to take a baseline charge from big man Myles Turner. Williams III scrambled over to help and not only swatted the shot attempt but spiked it directly to a prone White who caught it while lying on the parquet.

“He covers up a lot of mistakes. Flying around. It's fun out there to play with him,” said White. "You never really know where he is. He's just getting his feet underneath him, so he's going to be better and better each game.”

The key, of course, is making sure Williams III can stay on the floor. He has undergone two knee surgeries in the past year to remedy a meniscus tear and a hamstring injury sidelined him for two weeks this month. But he’s looked far more like his springy self since his recent return than he did for much of his initial comeback from a September knee surgery.

Mazzulla has elected to bring Williams III off the bench since his return this week. That has allowed Boston to stagger Williams III and Al Horford, eating up all of the big-man minutes. That eliminates the need to lean on emergency options like Blake Griffin and Luke Kornet, and allowed Boston to run with a tidy eight-man rotation.

What’s crazy is that Williams III and Horford are the best two-man pairing on the Celtics roster this season. They have a +16.4 net rating in 301 minutes together. But the Celtics preferred starting five from last year’s Finals run has struggled together this season, particularly on the defensive end. So Mazzulla is leaning into a more familiar grouping with White as the fifth starter.

Maybe that will change based on matchups in the postseason. There will be instances where the Celtics will more often have the double-big lineup together on the court. But if the goal is having Williams III available for the duration of whatever is ahead, then bringing him off the bench now isn’t the worst way to help pace him.

These last two games, Williams III has shown just how far he elevates Boston’s ceiling. Jayson Tatum and Brown have to continue to be great. The Celtics need another visit from Playoff Al. White has been the glue holding this team together through the season. And Marcus Smart is at his best when he’s conducting an offensive symphony and expending much of his energy on the defensive end.

But Williams III elevates it all. And even in these small glimpses since his return you can tell how vital he is to however long this playoff ride will last.

Copyright RSN
Contact Us