By finishing second, the Celtics will face the winner of the seventh vs. eighth play-in game, which pits the Brooklyn Nets against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Both of those potential opponents have some solid size in the middle of the court, and protecting the rim could prove to be a difficult task for the Celtics over a seven-game series.
Robert Williams continued absence as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn meniscus is a blow to the Celtics’ chances of gliding into the second round without the risk of a prolonged seven-game series. But, according to Ime Udoka, there is hope that the breakout big man could return ahead of schedule – even if the team isn’t factoring that into their playoff preparations.
“The four-to-six-week timetable is what it is. But guys will come back in three (weeks) and stuff. Javonte Green was here and came back in three weeks and jumping out of the gym still. So everybody kind of reacts to it differently and so we’re not ruling him out because of that, but as I’ve said, we anticipate playing the first round without him,” Udoka told the media in a recent press conference.
Williams’ absence is undoubtedly a huge blow to what the Celtics do on both ends of the floor, but the team has proven capable of continuing their defensive dominance and adapting their offense gameplan which has enabled them to remain an elite unit.
Daniel Theis is a Capable Deputy
When the Celtics acquired Daniel Theis at the trade deadline, the idea was to upgrade the third-string center. Boston had been struggling during periods where Enes Freedom was on the floor, due to the veteran’s limited defensive ability and poor mobility on the fast-break.
Theis is a known commodity in Boston, and his versatility as a screener, especially in pick-and-roll scenarios, fits perfectly with Ime Udoka’s offensive philosophy. There was also the added bonus of the returning center’s ability to stretch the floor a little, with the Salzgitter native being a 32.9% three-point shooter.
Sure, Theis’ last stint in Boston was under a different head coach who ran a totally different scheme, but the veteran’s relationship with most of the Celtics roster, and his understanding of how to play off of the teams’ stars made him a valuable addition. Udoka also believes that Theis has adapted to the Celtics’ new way of doing things incredibly well, and gives the team a reliable presence in Williams’ absence.
“Another guy who can do some of the same things and obviously great insurance policy to have him there. A guy that’s been around, although different schematically. The guys all know him and know what he’s about, and he’s picked up pretty quickly. And so, valuable there. But Al is a guy that’s played on and off-ball all season so he’s pretty comfortable in either spot,” Udoka said.
Williams Had Breakout Season
Having struggled with injury issues for the majority of his early career, Williams was finally having a healthy season which enabled him to show what he’s capable of when on the floor. And with a consistent role in the team, Williams was able to quickly cement himself as a core member of the Celtics rotation.
The Lousiana native is a valuable rim protector and finished the regular season ranked second in the NBA for blocks per game, just 0.1 blocks per game behind league-leader Jaren Jackson Jr. But, Williams also displayed an ability to dictate the pace of a game with his high-level passing skills, often operating as a secondary creator for Boston during half-court situations.
Finally, the six-foot-eight big man evolved as a screener, which enabled him to create rolling lanes to the rim, where he could space the floor with his lob threat. Teams struggled to figure out the best way to contain Williams, as if you cut off his roll, he would receive the rock and quickly catch you napping as he redirected the ball, whereas if you tried to limit his passing options he would simply jump over you for an easy lob.
Boston will miss Williams’ impact while he continues to rehab, but if he comes back healthy, and in good form, the Celtics are indeed a dark-horse candidate to make the NBA finals in the coming weeks.