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Rob Williams may not have stuffed the stat sheet per usual in Game 3 Saturday night, but the fourth-year center did have a difference-making presence in his first game back from knee surgery, helping to lift the Boston Celtics to a 109-103 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
In just over 15 minutes of action, Williams tallied two points, making his only shot attempt via an alley-oop dunk, corralled two rebounds – one on each end – and blocked one shot. A better measure of his impact showed up in the advanced metrics, as his net rating of 22.9 was by far the best of anyone who played at least 15 minutes.
“Rob looked pretty damn good to me,” Jaylen Brown said following the game. “Came back, instant impact, what he’s been doing all year, protecting the rim, had some big blocks, some lobs – it was great to see him catch a lob, that was uplifting for everybody. Just his presence being there on the floor, knowing he’s behind us makes us feel good.”
The Celtics had already taken care of business in Games 1 and 2 at home, but having Williams back for Game 3 gave them the edge they needed on the road.
Marcus Smart claimed that Timelord’s rim-protecting presence took a great deal of pressure off the rest of Boston’s defenders, which helped them hold the Nets to their lowest-offensive output of the series. It was also the lowest-combined scoring effort for Brooklyn superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who tallied 16 points apiece, including just four total points while sharing the court with Williams.
“It makes our defense that much better, as we all know,” the Defensive Player of the Year said at practice Saturday morning. “He makes everybody else’s job a lot easier.”
The game itself seemed to have gone easy on Williams’ body, as he claimed postgame that he was feeling “no pain, no setbacks.” The fact that he was able to return almost a week earlier than anticipated and come out of his first game feeling no discomfort whatsoever is remarkable for a guy who just underwent an invasive procedure 23 days prior.
In fact, head coach Ime Udoka declared that Williams had a lot left in the tank Saturday night and could have played more. The medical staff just wanted to keep him at less than 20 minutes for precautionary reasons.
“Technically, we could have played him more and, as his confidence in his body and responds to the live game action, that can increase,” said Udoka. “We'll get with the medical team, talk to him, see how he felt after last night and go from there.”
Williams should most likely see an increase in minutes Monday night when the Celtics look to complete a four-game sweep in Brooklyn. Truly, that would just be icing on the cake, considering how fortunate the Celtics are to have him back at this time.
"Getting Rob back is huge for our team," said Jayson Tatum. "Even in limited minutes how much of an impact he made on the game, even if it doesn’t show up, just his presence being a lob threat, rim protector, great passer ... If we're going to do anything special this year, this postseason, we definitely need him."