Rob Aims to Step Up Another Notch After Game 1 Career Effort

Robert Williams apparently didn’t have much rust to shake off in Tuesday night’s Eastern Conference Finals opener, as he returned from a four-game injury absence and put forth the best playoff effort of his career.

The fourth-year center was a bright spot in Boston’s 118-07 defeat at FTX Arena, where he logged postseason career highs of 18 points and nine rebounds to go along with two blocks and an assist against the host Miami Heat.

Williams had been out for the previous 10 days while dealing with left knee soreness, which was coincidentally unrelated to the surgical procedure that had been recently performed on the same knee to repair a torn meniscus.

Aside from dealing with some cramps late in the game, Williams seemed to hold up just fine in his 28 minutes of action, during which he was the only Celtic to log a positive plus/minus of plus-5.

“It felt good getting back out there,” Williams reflected Wednesday afternoon. “Thankfully I made it through the game. But like I said, it just felt good being back out there with my team.”

His team needed him, especially after Al Horford's sudden entrance into the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols shortly before tip-off. If it hadn't been for Williams, the result would have been a whole lot uglier.

Williams faced a major assignment in going up against Bam Adebayo, whom he outplayed in most facets of the game. He outscored the former All-Star 18-10, out-rebounded him 10-4, and attempted twice as many field goals as his counterpart despite playing nine fewer minutes.

Williams likely would have played a few more minutes had he not cramped up midway through the fourth quarter. He stumbled awkwardly while trying to defend an Adebayo and immediately reached toward the same left knee that had been injured. The incident surely caused some momentary anxiety for Celtics fans as he exited the game limping, but fortunately, it was nothing major this time.

“I know when they saw me start grabbing my knee everybody started panicking,” Williams recalled of the play. “So I was trying to get up and just tell them I was just cramping – basically fatigue.”

Such is to be expected when coming back from a 10-day absence, especially against such a physical opponent.

It’s crucial that Williams maintains his health and continues to excel considering how Horford will be absent until he clears the league’s health protocols. His defensive presence would be magnified even more should Marcus Smart miss Game 2 after being sidelined in the series-opener with a mid-foot sprain.

“Obviously it’s tough losing any teammates, especially our two starters, but it’s a next man up mentality,” Williams said. “It doesn’t really worry me because, my guys, they know how to fight. And even if this starts with me or other people just stepping up and taking on that defensive presence or leading the physicality presence, whatever we gotta do to step it up a notch.”

Williams and his teammates will have to step it up another notch Thursday night, as they attempt to tie the series before bringing it home to Boston.


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