Remember that scene in The Princess Bride where Westley, Inigo, and Fezzik break into the castle to save Buttercup?
They’re collectively wounded, and the gate is guarded tightly, but they devise a brilliant plan to prop the giant Fezzik on a wheelbarrow and light him on fire. They make themselves appear extremely intimidating and so terrifying that the opposition has no choice but to surrender.
The power of pure size, apparent fortitude and perceived dominance – even if somewhat feigned – goes a long way. Robert Williams may not be 100 percent, and he may not be his usual spry self, but his mere presence alone plays a role in overpowering the Heat.
If he continues to give the Celtics what he did in their 102-82 Game 4 win on Monday – 12 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks in 19 minutes – that’s more than enough help vault Boston to the NBA Finals. He said afterward that he’s confident he can play Wednesday.
“It’s just swelling a little bit, stiffened up on me,” Williams said. “Taking it day-by-day ... But no doubts in my head. I feel good.”
Obviously in an ideal world, Williams would be fully healthy, but he’s still a player Miami has zero answer for even when he’s not.
First off, Williams is a certified Bam Adebayo stopper. When Williams missed Game 3, Adebayo erupted for 31 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals. In all other games this series, Adebayo is averaging just 8.3 points. That’s not a coincidence.
Bam Adebayo when Robert Williams was out:— StatMuse (@statmuse) May 24, 2022
Bam Adebayo when Robert Williams has played:
0 SPG pic.twitter.com/kNzV68gHkX
Having Williams near the rim makes the Heat overthink and forces them into uncharacteristic mistakes. Blocking shots is great, but his ability to alter them and prevent them entirely is just as important.
Adebayo and Jimmy Butler are Miami’s main threats to score in the paint, and Williams’ length and instincts decrease their chances of doing so significantly.
Check out this play early in the second half when Williams stays with Butler and makes swatting his shot look easy. Though he doesn’t have his usual burst, he still has the size and strength to deny a player who’s also not his full self. Look at how empty the paint is.
The Celtics trust Williams 1-on-1 and know he’ll make the play more often than not. They don’t need to help and can instead stay on shooters spaced around the floor.
“Not playing last game, I noticed the slip-ups we had on the defensive end,” Williams said.
Offensively, the two-big lineup is particularly potent against this undersized Heat team. When the Celtics play Williams and Al Horford at the same time, the Heat are extremely outmatched. If Adebayo is on one of them, the other is free to either set a screen and roll or simply roam and wait for a lob.
If the Heat put Butler or P.J. Tucker on one of them, that means someone else is going to have a mismatch. It puts the Heat in a bind and forces them to pick their poison.
“Just taking advantage of mismatches,” Williams said. “You may have one on the wing, you may have one on the block. They’re giving us reads. You’ve got to make the right play.”
On this play early in the game, Adebayo is a step late and has to respect Horford’s shot. He closes out and Horford beats him off the dribble. Kyle Lowry tries to help, but that leaves Williams all alone. Butler comes from the weak side, but he can’t overcommit because if he does, Jaylen Brown will be wide open in the corner.
Williams who’s all by himself, points to the sky and easily corrals and throws down the lob from Horford. It’s not complicated, and it doesn’t have to be.
Look at what happens here. The Heat try to put Max Strus on Williams (good luck) out of necessity, because Lowry is on Derrick White, Tucker is on Jayson Tatum, Butler is on Brown and Adebayo is on Horford.
Williams recognizes he has a shorter and less athletic defender on him. The Celtics again give him room to operate, and he makes a quick and timely cut to the basket for an easy deuce. Volume isn’t important, but the Celtics will take quality over quantity every game.
Williams is important in every series, but he’s particularly crucial in this one. Even if he plays 15-to-20 minutes at 70-to-80 percent, that’s more than enough. The Heat simply have no answer. He brought his trademark energy and versatility from the start, and the Celtics found their swagger once again.
Said Williams: “We shouldn’t have to get punched in the mouth to respond.”