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Robert Williams on Celtics win in Game 4: “It felt like a must-win game in our eyes”

Celtics center Robert Williams was interviewed following Boston’s 129-121 win over the Atlanta Hawks in round one of the 2023 NBA Playoffs. Boston now has a 3-1 lead heading back home to TD Garden.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

After being upended on the boards in Game 3, the Boston Celtics came back with poise and energy against the Atlanta Hawks in their 129-121 win on Sunday night. The Celtics now have a 3-1 chokehold on the series, and will have the chance to close out the series on Tuesday at home in front of a packed TD Garden.

If Boston manages to close the series out then, the Eastern Conference Semifinals will start on Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers. Sixers star and MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid has been battling a knee injury, and is a coin toss to play in Game 1, which bodes well for Boston. Giannis Antetokounmpo is set to return Monday night in a crucial Game 4 after suffering a back injury in Game 1 against Miami. After so many games, wear and tear begins to stack up, which makes all of the resting that Boston has done to keep their players fresh worth it, specifically with Al Horford and Robert Williams.

In a statement performance against the Hawks, Robert Williams looked as good as he’s had all season since his return from surgery, racking up 13 points, 4-of-5 from the field, 5-of-6 from the line, a game-high 15 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and two steals. 12 of his rebounds came in the first half, the most in a half since Kendrick Perkins in 2008.

Rob had two crucial buckets off assists from Jaylen Brown late in the game to seal things away, and there seemed to be a newfound edge and confidence to his game the entire night. Hustling, displaying some offensive prowess outside of just dunks, and even fighting for loose balls; you name it, and Robert Williams was doing it.

“It felt like this was a must-win game, in our eyes,” said Williams. After the game, Head Coach Joe Mazzulla went up to him and relayed a message. When asked what Mazzulla said, Williams said “He’s been challenging all of us to bring it with the physicality. He’s just letting me know that’s why they paid was respectable. He let me know ‘keep going man’ and that’s when I’m at my best.”

“Close. He just has to be consistent,” said Joe Mazzulla on Robert Williams’ impact compared to last year’s before his injury. “So when he plays at that level, we’re a different team, and he brings an energy, and a level of joy to our team constantly. When he plays like that, we’re different.”

“Rob is the kind of guy where he’s gotta realize he has a lot of gifts and he has a lot of abilities,” Mazzulla continued, “It goes back to what you guys always talk about. Guys need to feel appreciated, need to feel empowered. So every conversation with Rob is about when he’s at his best, we’re a different team. So just constantly reminding him of that.”

Beyond staying healthy, Rob needs to be more assertive in influencing the game. It’s been a gradual buildup since his return, as there was a level of hesitancy with his movement to avoid injury. We wouldn’t always see him be as explosive around the rim, and he’s become a lot choicier when showing off his superhuman athleticism. This season under Mazzulla has been about empowering the team to be their best selves, and for Williams, it’s paid dividends.

“He has kind of an even level of building you up and tearing you down,” said Williams on Mazzulla, “So even though he encourages me, he challenges me, even in the middle of a game. He challenges me all the time.”

The eye test would tell you that Rob is close to last year’s form, one that would anchor the league’s most daunting and smothering defense. When asked if this was the closest he’s felt to how he was playing to last year, Williams said “Oh yeah, yeah I’m feeling good man. Hopefully no injuries for me, or anybody else playing throughout the playoffs.”

Robert Williams and the Celtics will try to close things out on Tuesday night at TD Garden, 7:30 PM EST tipoff.

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