On Saturday, starting point guard Marcus Smart was hurt on a tough screen from Spurs forward Zach Collins, and was pulled from the game with a left knee contusion. As expected, Smart missed Monday night’s matchup against the Chicago Bulls, and Joe Mazzulla was forced to make changes to the starting five.
Derrick White slid over to the starting guard spot, and Robert Williams was given his first start of the season, and his first since the NBA Finals. Williams has been recovering from his second knee surgery back in September, and up until this point, had been operating off the bench with the second unit. After strong endorsements for Rob to start from stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Mazzulla seized the opportunity.
Over twenty-three minutes of floor time, Robert Williams dropped 8 points on 3-of-4 shooting, snagging seven boards in addition to two assists and two blocks. While he still is clearly working on his conditioning and lost some steam as the game went on, Williams had a clear impact on both sides of the floor for the Celtics in their 107-99 win over the Bulls. It was a much-needed victory over a team that’s been a thorn in the side of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, Boston included.
“It’s good, it’s good to have him back out there,” said veteran Al Horford when asked about Rob’s return to the starting lineup. “He just does so much for our defense. It just takes us to another level, so I was just happy to see him out there with us getting some good minutes.”
How much pressure does Robert Williams take off Al Horford when they’re on the floor together? “A lot,” said Al Horford with a smile. “There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of pressure that takes off me, off of all of us. He’s kind of like that blanket. We kind of just rely on him and his activity, and his energy. I just really enjoyed playing alongside him, so I was glad that he was able to get a start tonight, and we can continue to build that chemistry.”
On the adjustments that Williams has had to go through under Mazzulla’s offense, Horford said, “I think coach is doing a good job when he’s out there to make sure our play calls kind of suit him a little bit...Honestly, he can be in any position out there and he knows what he needs to do...It’s just good to have him out there. He’s a weapon that I feel like we’ll continue to use and develop.”
When asked about Robert Williams’ return and his importance, teammate Grant Williams said, “Rob’s phenomenal, man. He’s such a special part of this team, he does so many things that not many people in the league can even do. So, he does a phenomenal job of not only protecting us on the defensive end, but he’s doing a great job of pressuring them on the offensive glass, being a threat down there, a lob threat. Like JT and JB both said in previous days, we get to continue to include him and continue to get him worked back into the offense, get familiar with him.”
“He’s a phenomenal passer,” said Grant. “That’s one of the best things he does in the game. So, getting him touches on the ball allowed us to move off the ball and create better actions so that way we get not only wide open looks, but also easy dunks and layups and everything else.”
When asked if Rob’s hustle is contagious, Grant Williams said, “Absolutely. Rob’s presence is contagious. Just him being on the floor, the energy, the life, the smiles, the character of person that he is is contagious. Not just on the floor, but the room he walks into.”
“I’m fortunate enough to have a teammate like him,” said Grant. “Because even when you’re not necessarily playing your best, or even when you’re in your own head, he does a phenomenal job of just walking up to you and telling you ‘you’re doing your job, you’re doing whatever you need to be doing. Just keep your head up.’ He’s a phenomenal person, so I’m thankful for Rob, and the fact that he’s back and playing, it’s great to see.”
Celtics fans will have to wait and see if Robert Williams will get another start when the team takes on the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night at TD Garden, 7:30 pm EST tipoff.