The Boston Celtics — the hottest team in the NBA right now — took a huge hit when big man Robert Williams III suffered a torn meniscus injury and now, their championship aspirations are quickly fading without one of the NBA’s premier defenders.
The left knee injury occurred on Sunday when Williams went down during a victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves that saw the Celtics extend their winning streak to six games.
On Monday, the Celtics sent Williams to get an MRI to gauge the extent of the knee injury. He has two surgical routes to repair the meniscus tear, but one of them doesn’t leave the door open for a return during the playoffs.
“There are some operations that keep you out longer than others,” said head coach Ime Udoka. “We’re hoping for the best.”
The best-case scenario is that Williams could return to action in four weeks or during the second round of the playoffs. But no one can be certain how effective Williams be able to play post-surgery.
The Celtics (27-9) currently occupy the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference, and they’re one of three teams that are just one game behind the top-seeded Miami Heat in one of the closest races for the #1 seed in recent memory. According to a recent update on the NBA futures board at DraftKings, the Celtics are +950 odds to win the 2022 championship. You can back the Celtics at +425 odds to win the Eastern Conference title and secure a spot in the 2022 NBA Finals.
RW3: anchor in green
If you’re not a Celtics fan and don’t watch a lot of Boston games, then you’re probably unaware of what Williams brings to the table on defense. Williams averages 10 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game this season, but his stats don’t tell the real story about his significant contributions on defense.
Jayson Tatum has been on fire over the past couple of months, but the Celtics’ top-ranked defense, anchored by Williams, is why they’ve been unbeatable in the last six weeks. The Celtics love to switch on defense, and Williams has the ability to shut down pick-and-rolls.
“The Celtics are allowing only 0.86 points per pick-and-roll that Williams defends, which is the best in the NBA,” wrote Kevin O’Conner from The Ringer.
When he plays off the ball, Williams might be one of the top big men in close-outs against opponents shooting 3-pointers on the perimeter.
Out of 169 other defenders contesting at least 500 shots this season, Williams allows opponents to score less than 40% of the time, which is ranked #1 according to Second Spectrum advanced metrics.
Without Williams, we’ll see how the Celtics compensate for losing the most underrated defender in the NBA. The Celtics lost their first game without Williams at center when the Toronto Raptors won an overtime thriller to snap a six-game winning streak.
Expect Al Horford and Grant Williams to log extra minutes for the Celtics with Williams out, but it’s going to be nearly impossible to fill the huge hole on defense.
UPDATE: Out 4-6 Weeks
Williams underwent surgery on Wednesday morning. He will be out for at least a month, but could miss up to six weeks. That leaves the door open for Williams to return in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, if the Celtics can win their first-round match up.