What goes up must come down. That saying could be applied to any litany of things even somewhat related to this Boston Celtics season. Robert Williams when rising for an alley-oop; Williams when swatting a ball that was once floating in midair; and, if fears of the worst are confirmed to be true, the untouched optimism that had been building inside Celtics’ fans for the better part of two months.
Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Williams, Boston’s standout center and defensive anchor in the painted area and beyond, has suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee. Williams was noticeably ginger on said knee roughly three quarters into last night’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, and later limped off, missing the remainder of the contest with what the team called, at the time, a left knee sprain. For what it’s worth, The Athletic’s Shams Charania has only reported that Williams has “feared” to have suffered the meniscus tear, so there’s still some speculation until we officially get confirmation from the team.
Williams was injured in Sunday night’s victory — Boston’s 24th in 28 games — and underwent an MRI today. Williams is first among 169 players who’ve defended 500-plus shots as the closest defender, per Second Spectrum tracking. Only Williams has held opponents sub-40 % shooting.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 28, 2022
Last night, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said it was unclear when Williams suffered the injury, but that he was in “quite a bit of pain on the lateral side” when he exited the game. He noted that Williams would have his knee scanned this morning and that he would not be traveling to Toronto for Boston’s game against the Raptors on Monday night. Evidently, it looks as though he’ll miss a bit more time.
It’s a crushing blow for Boston, as the fourth-year center has spent much of this season healthy, and has maintained career-best numbers over the course of his 61 games played (fittingly, a career-high). He’s averaged per game career-highs in points (10), rebounds (9.6, which also leads the team), assists (2.0), blocks (2.2), steals (0.9), field goal percentage (74), and minutes (29.6). He’s garnered Defensive Player of the Year buzz, and has been a unique source of energy for the once energy-starved Celtics, particularly amid their recent surge to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
But just because it’s a bummer doesn’t mean the Celtics aren’t prepared to fill the gap left in Williams’ wake. Grant Williams has been a standout, too, proving that he’s not just a corner-dweller, but a capable defender in the paint, on the wings, and on fastbreaks. He, too, is averaging career-highs in each area Robert has, and his presence has been arguably even more energizing. He may not be as long as his fellow Williams — Grant is just 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan — but people forget that Robert is just 6-foot-8, despite playing with the lanky prowess of a traditional center. Grant is more than up for the challenge.
As is Daniel Theis, who the Celtics re-acquired at this year’s trade deadline after he spent almost two seasons bouncing between Boston, Chicago, and Houston. He started 101 of 107 games in his final year-and-a-half with the Celtics before returning this season, and was hardly a stick in the mud defensively. He’ll never get a foul call, but he’s versatile in his own right. He’s just as threatening as Williams is a lob-catcher; Theis is a more technically-sound screener; and he can shoot the three, something Williams has yet to develop.
Defensively, the team might suffer, but Al Horford has been close to as valuable in the paint as Williams has been this season. Plus, Boston reportedly just signed G-Leaguer Juwan Morgan to 10-day contract, barely an hour before Charania broke the Williams news. In 20 games (10 starts) with the Maine Red Claws, Morgan has averaged 12.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 25.9 minutes per contest. He’s similar in size to Williams, and while he isn’t as powerful a rebounder, he’s added size for a team that is now losing their most dominant source of size.
No, the Celtics aren’t losing nothing, but they’ve done enough work behind the scenes to replace Williams if this injury ends up being as serious as reports hint at.
UPDATE: It’s officially a meniscus tear for Williams. Here’s the official word from the Celtics:
Official update from Celtics on Robert Williams. Firmer recovery timeline to come later this week. pic.twitter.com/IlUzkhUzaV— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) March 28, 2022
UPDATE #2: According to Udoka, a plan of action has not been determined, but there are options where Williams could return later this year in the postseason or it could be a longer recovery based on the surgery Williams undergoes to repair the torn meniscus.
“We’ll know in the next few days as we evaluate some surgical options,” Udoka said, confirming that surgery is certainly in Williams’ future rather than just rest and recovery.
“He has some optimism that he can possibly come back. Guys have to step up in the meantime. We’ve done it all year. Hopefully, he can come back sooner rather than later. We’ll see in the next few days and that should give him some hope and optimism to heal up and rely on everybody else to take his spot for now.”