Key Missing Piece Has Led to Celtics’ Defensive Woes: NBA Sources

Robert Williams, Celtics

Getty Robert Williams, Celtics

Even in the wake of giving up just 94 points in an 18-point win over Washington on Sunday, the Celtics are still having to answer for the defensive lapses that have been an uneasy accompaniment to their 4-2 mark in the new NBA season.

And even while properly harassing Bradley Beal into 12 points on 4-16 shooting, there was the matter of those 16 offensive rebounds the Wizards were able to pull in. Indeed, it’s painfully early in the season, but the Celts going from a league-low 104.5 points allowed last season to 114.5 (18th) heading into Wednesday’s games is not sitting well.

According to NBA sources, however, the major reason for the difference is really quite simple.

“They still should be better on defense than they are now, but I don’t think people realize how much Robert Williams means to them,” one opposing front office source told Heavy Sports.

Williams Makes the Celtics a Championship Contender

Williams is still out after undergoing a September procedure to alleviate lingering problems in his left knee — the same knee on which he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus last March. Initial word from the team is that he’d be out 8-12 weeks from this latest procedure, but it’s likely the club will be cautious with his return.

Which, based on his importance to the Celtics, makes sense.

“Let me put it this way,” the source continued, “without Rob Williams, they’re a very good team, but they’re in that second tier. With Rob Williams, they’re a top defense and a championship level team. That’s what he does for them.”

‘Williams Takes Away the Paint’: NBA Source

Those are pretty strong words, but they are supported by the fact Williams was second team All-Defense last season and was second in the league in blocked shots per game at 2.2.

More than that, he also is a perfect fit beside Al Horford in the switching defensive scheme the Celtics employ.

“Look, the NBA is two things right now — 3-pointers and shots at the rim,” said a league source. “That’s what everyone’s going for. Every team is setting up its defense to try to take away the 3. What Williams does is take away the paint. There’s not many rim protectors like him in the league. And the fact that he’s able to defend out to the line makes him even more valuable, because they do so much switching.

“You can’t take a guy like that out of your lineup and think it’s not going to have a major effect on you. Having said that, I still think their guys have to be more focused on that end more consistently. They can be so good on offense, but defense is what got them to the Finals last year. This year, they hit some shots and they tend to let up. The game is so easy for them when they move the ball. But then they’ll fall in love with their offense and stop putting in the kind of effort they need on defense. It’ll happen for stretches, and you just shake your head. Especially with Williams out, they have to be even more conscious of their effort and execution on defense. They miss a couple of easy block-outs late in the game against Cleveland (last Friday) and, boom, they give that one away.

“Williams forgives a lot of their mistakes, but with him out, their margin for error on defense is so much smaller.”


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