Boston Celtics big man Robert Williams III tore his left meniscus during a 134-112 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday evening.
The 24-year-old center reported discomfort in his knee early in the game but continued to play on, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He has been a critical component in Boston’s top-ranked defense and overall rise to the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Further testing is due for Williams, who at this time is listed as out for several weeks.
Impact of Robert Williams’ absence
Not too long ago, the Celtics were 23-24 and at risk of missing the play-in tournament. They looked to be on a disaster course and were bombarded with claims that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, once and for all, could not succeed together.
All that Boston has done since that point in time is go on a 24-4 run that has dragged them ahead of the Miami Heat for first place in the East. Jayson Tatum has gained more and more MVP buzz, and smart roster and coaching moves have helped the team enjoy its most productive stretch since the 2008 championship season.
Robert Williams has been at the heart of these performances, averaging 10 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game; he also ranks first in both individual defensive and offensive rating, third in defensive win shares, eighth in offensive win shares, and 17th in player efficiency rating. He and Draymond Green are the two best “glue” guys in the National Basketball Association, and nobody is anywhere near their level of importance
What do the Celtics look like now?
Al Horford is still out with an injury of his own, which means that Grant Williams is expected to see action as a small-ball center in certain lineups, with Daniel Theirs spelling him as a more traditional big man.
Monday’s game against the Toronto Raptors will be the first look at Boston without their ever-reliable center, although they will still not be in over their heads— the Raptors are missing their own starting center, Khem Birch, and will rotate Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa, and even Pascal Siakam at the five spot.
Williams’ absence will only be forgivable in the short-term, however, given the talents of the East’s big guys. Boston now has no healthy defensive option for Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bam Adebayo, or even Nikola Vucevic. Williams is too small for the lot, Horford cannot run with them all game, and Theis is too slow laterally to be dragged out onto the perimeter.
There is still a chance that Williams III comes back for the playoffs— after all, he played out the game on what ended up being a torn meniscus. Knowing his mental toughness and resolve, he will play through the pain if it means he has a chance at being a part of a championship-contending team.
The Celtics are going to continue to put their big man through more tests and come up with a timetable for his return.
Boston’s next game against the Toronto Raptors will tip off inside Scotiabank Arena Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
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