BOSTON — When Robert Williams feels good, the Celtics look good.
And in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, he and the Celtics looked great.
But as Williams continues to deal with left knee pain that has bothered him intermittently for more than two months, and with the shortest break between games in this series between Games 3 and 4, the health continues of his knee before Friday. the game is something Boston is watching closely.
“I feel great this morning,” Williams said after Boston practice Thursday afternoon. “One of the best days. Like I said, ups and downs, but I feel good.
“The extra days [rest days] to help. But there are ups and downs so we have to read it day by day. Last night, you’re right, I felt pretty good.”
It was apparent from the way Williams was playing throughout the game. He finished with 8 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots, but the most on his stat line was a team record plus-21 in 25 minutes – which more than satisfied the visual test for impact on the procedure.
Williams was in the middle of everything Boston did well, his energy illustrating the different level of strength the Celtics played with after being pushed by the Golden State Warriors for long stretches of their Game 2 loss.
It was just the latest example of his importance to Boston throughout this run, with Celtics coach Ime Udoka calling Williams a prototypical example of the “modern-day NBA center”.
“I think he’s still top-notch, quite an instinctive guy,” Udoka said. “Some things we asked him to do were different from what he’s had to do throughout his career. I just think at the start, the amount of switching and perimeter play, but he’s a guy who can do it. I’ve played him in two playoffs [as an assistant coach] in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, and saw the impact he had on those series. A guy we wanted to keep out of a lot of the action.
“Obviously the rim protection stands out, but his ability to move his feet around the perimeter and the luxury of having him off the ball sometimes and allowing Al to kind of be our normal five benefited to our team. Very multi-dimensional defender who has very good instincts. I would say he’s the center of the modern NBA – a little undersized, can move his feet, keep on the perimeter, keep in the post and obviously , rim protection is what he has always done naturally. A huge luxury for us.”
It’s a luxury that’s proven to be a staple for Boston’s title hopefuls over this streak. Facing one of the most unique offensive weapons in NBA history in Warriors star Stephen Curry, the only time the Celtics have shown any ability to blunt his momentum in this series has been with Williams on the ground.
Since undergoing meniscus surgery on his left knee late in the regular season and then sustaining a bone bruise on the same knee in Boston’s Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Milwaukee Bucks, the way he feels from game to game has changed. And, in addition to missing the Bucks’ last three games of the series and Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, he’s been on the injury report multiple times.
When he’s feeling good, though, it’s been a huge boost for Boston’s chances. And as the Celtics look to take a 3-1 lead — and in the process, win back-to-back playoff home games for the first time since swept the Brooklyn Nets in the first round — they will be in hoping his knee responds well to the day off between games.
“Robert changes everything,” said Al Horford. “It’s great to see him get to play and show some of the things he can do, how he can impact the game. Just his presence, the people in the league, everyone, we all know each other. The way it is with him, he can affect shots, he’s able to block jump shots, people get in the way, they have to think about it just because he’s there.
“Even on the perimeter, he does a good job coming out and challenging. For me, I enjoy being able to watch him play and be successful. I know he obviously plays through a lot of things, and I’m just very happy to see him succeed at the moment.”