The long-awaited return of Robert Williams III finally arrived last night, and there’s a lot to be excited about. Of course, his first game might have been slightly overshadowed by an 8-point loss to the NBA’s fifth-ranked team, who aren’t even on the same court as the C’s. But it’s not about how Robb is right now, or even how the Celtics are currently using him. Instead it’s about what the Celtics are could looks like when he’s fully ready to speed up playoff time.
Despite a decent statin, perfect shooting percentage, it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies for Rob last night. For starters, his first shift on the court was full of 3 quick fouls. He wasn’t as locked into helping his weak side as you’d like, and didn’t have the same hidden defensiveness we’re used to seeing; even he himself said after the game that he was “a step slow” defensively and “getting back into rhythm.”
All this, however, is understandable. No matter how hard you try to get fit in training or at scrimmages, there’s nothing like getting your wind back by playing a legitimate game, and that’s what Rob needs to do in the coming weeks to get back up to speed. .
Here, Williams is not playing with the intensity needed to make a game-saving comeback. After not making an effort to set up a defensive assignment, Robb reacts late to the rebound and lets the undersized Markelle Fultz sky over him for an easy offensive board. It’s an uncharacteristic game from Williams, but I’m going to talk it into him getting his conditioning back and not being ready to put in some effort on a certain range just yet. It will come though. We’ve seen it before, and I’d be shocked if we didn’t see it again.
More of the same
“He looked good,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said of Robert Williams after the game. “He looked comfortable there.”
Even the less than 100% Time Lord showed flashes of all the NBA second team defensive stoppers we know and love.
Few players in the NBA can make this block. From a mostly standing position, Rob climbs up in the belt and completely nullifies Mo Bamba’s weak takedown attempt. He honestly has no business even challenging Moy’s shot, but it’s exactly the type of physical tools and defensive instincts that make Williams special.
Rob also showed some of the athleticism that makes him such a unique offensive threat.
Sure, Luke Cornette or even Blake Griffin could have shot this one, but the fact that Marcus Smart kept the ball on this dribble with the intent of giving Rob an open look at the rim shows that the Celtics will be looking. Loeb is more aggressive now that Williams is back.
Despite having the best offense in the NBA, the Celtics lacked a threat on the offensive end. More than just someone who can finish above the rim and spread the floor vertically, Rob is someone whose pull at the rim opens up driving lanes for his teammates. Every other Celtic would enjoy having Robbie back, as opposing bigs will think twice before leaving Williams on the court, resulting in less resistance on the wing.
Here, Bamba is a step slow in responding to Smart’s push because he’s afraid to give the easy bean to Williams. That puts Smart on the edge of an easy finish.
After the game, Mazzulla highlighted Rob’s offensive impact. “he really helped our vertical spacing on the offensive end.”
My favorite play
Believe it or not, my favorite offensive play from Rob got a possession where he didn’t even touch the ball.
The Celtics’ offense is filled with cuts, off-ball moves and behind-the-back screens, and that’s what made them so hard to stop. Smart, timely and focused off the ball has led to the Celtics’ pursuit of three-point shooters (and they have a lot of them, by the way). On this play, Williams sets a very dizzying screen for Jaylen Brown as he finds both Franz Wagner and Bol Bol focused on Tatum’s drive to the hoop and collapses in the paint. Although it did not lead to an open three this time, That kind of unselfish display is what has been the Celtics’ special sauce this year. And, from the looks of it, Robert Williams is only going to add to it.