Robert Williams III Undergoes Left-Knee Surgery
Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III underwent surgery Wednesday morning to repair the torn meniscus in his left knee, and is expected to return in approximately four-to-six weeks, the team announced. The timetable sets Williams up for a potential return in the second round of the playoffs.
Williams suffered the injury in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday, and further imaging revealed the torn meniscus. He had become a key part of the NBA’s best defense during Boston’s recent surge. The Celtics have won 24 of their past 29 and sit just one loss behind the Miami Heat for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Williams suffered the tear Sunday night, but the extent of the injury allowed for a procedure that won’t require him to be sidelined for several months. Boston (47-29) is third in the Eastern Conference with six games left in the regular season — only one game out of first place.
Williams has been an immense part of the NBA’s best defense and the hottest team over the past two months. He is No. 1 among 169 players who’ve defended 500-plus shots as the closest defender, per Second Spectrum tracking. Only Williams has held opponents to under 40% shooting. Williams, who signed a new four-year, $52 million extension in the offseason, has averaged 10 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks and is shooting 73.6% from the floor.
Their top-ranked defense, giving up 105.9 points per 100 possessions and only 103.4 since Jan. 22, has been at the centre of that revival. Williams is perhaps the best player on that defense. His athleticism and length playing largely as an off-ball rover, has made him one of the most dangerous defensive playmakers in basketball. Boston has relied on the Williams-Al Horford tandem to protect the rim for them, but with Williams now out, the onus will fall on the rest of Boston’s defense to help carry the load.
The Celtics will have a hard time replacing the rim protection and switchability on defense that Williams brings. Daniel Theis will play a more prominent role and is solid on both ends of the court, but he is not as dynamic an athlete as Williams.
The numbers are concerning. Boston’s starting five, Smart, Tatum, Brown, Al Horford, and Williams has a defensive rating of 94.8. but remove Williams and replace him with anyone else, and the defensive rating jumps to 114.1. For a couple of games now, coach Ime Udoka has been experimenting with lineups, such as slotting Derrick White next to Smart, with Tatum and Brown, then one centre, a smaller and more offensive lineup. That could all work in certain matchups.
The matchups are impossible to predict, with both the top and bottom of the East tightly bunched. Boston might still match up well with Brooklyn without Williams, but they would struggle to match up with the Bucks. It just depends on how the Eastern Conference standings shake out over the final week and a half.
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