On the same day the Boston Celtics moved into first place in the Eastern Conference, they were simultaneously dealt a major blow to their title hopes.
Starting center Robert Williams prematurely exited Boston’s 134-112 victory on March 27 with a knee injury. Following the win, head coach Ime Udoka informed reporters he didn’t know what exactly happened to Williams’ knee, but that the big man was in “quite a bit of pain,” per Mass Live’s Brian Robb. While an initial report from ESPN’s Tim Bontemps diagnosed Williams’ injury as a left knee sprain, further testing on March 28 delivered far more damning news.
According to ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski, an MRI revealed that the 24-year-old suffered a meniscus tear and will miss “several weeks at minimum.” Head coach Ime Udoka added that the team will “evaluate surgical options” for Williams over the next handful of days.
Celtics Add to Frontcourt; Al Horford Continues to Miss Time
On top of Williams being sidelined, veteran Al Horford missed Sunday’s game against the Timberwolves for personal reasons and did not make the trip to Canada for Monday’s contest against the Toronto Raptors.
“He’s still dealing with some stuff,” Udoka said, via Mass Live. “And like I said, he’ll get the proper time needed to take care of his stuff, and it’s not looking likely right now.”
With Boston’s rapidly thinning frontcourt becoming a concern, the C’s have gone out and added some depth in the form of Juwan Morgan. The team announced the signing of the 6-foot-7-inch forward to a 10-day contract on March 28. Morgan, 24, has appeared in 29 games (19 starts) with Boston’s G League affiliates, the Maine Celtics, this season, averaging 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
Undrafted out of Indiana in 2019, Morgan spent the first two years of his professional career in Utah, appearing in 50 games with the Jazz through the 2020-21 season. Over that span, the Missouri native totaled 281 minutes and averaged 1.4 points and 1.1 rebounds per contest. He also boasts nine games of postseason experience, including drawing starts in two of Utah’s seven-game first-round series loss to the Denver Nuggets in 2020.
Morgan was signed by the Celtics this past September but was eventually waived in mid-October before ultimately signing with the Maine Celtics one week later. Morgan was signed to a 10-day contract by the Raptors in December, appearing in one game for Toronto prior to his contract expiring. He was then reacquired by the Maine Celtics.
Williams Has Served as an Anchor for the NBA’s Top Defense
Williams, who inked a four-year, $54 million extension in the offseason, has blossomed into one of the league’s premier defensive big men and a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year honors. In 61 games this season (all starts), the Texas A&M product is averaging career bests in every major statistical category including points (10.0), field-goal percentage (73.6%), rebounds (9.6), assists (2.0) and blocks (2.2).
As highlighted by Wojnarowski, “Williams is No. 1 among 169 players in the league who have defended 500-plus shots as the closest defender, per Second Spectrum tracking. Only Williams has held opponents under 40% shooting.”
Boston will have an uphill battle filling Williams’ shoes, and will likely take a conglomerate of players to help pick up the slack in the frontcourt. While Morgan will serve as a depth piece, Grant Williams and Daniel Theis, who the C’s reacquired at this year’s trade deadline, will likely be called upon to do the majority of the heavy lifting alongside Horford.