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Robert Williams of the Boston Celtics

Getty Robert Williams of the Boston Celtics.

Last year, Jaylen Brown was out during the Boston Celtics’ first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. This year, big man Robert Williams is projected to miss some time. Williams tore his meniscus during a March 27 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves and has yet to make his way back onto the court. The initial timeline for his return was set for 4-6 weeks.

However, leading up to the start of the postseason, there has been a multitude of reports stating that Williams could be ahead of schedule in his recovery process. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that he could be back in the latter half of Round 1.

On Saturday, the Celtics released their official injury report ahead of Game 1. There was only one player listed: Williams. He is listed as out while he continues to rehab his torn meniscus.

This falls in line with what the team has been saying for the past few weeks. Head coach Ime Udoka has repeatedly stated that they are planning to not have him for the entirety of Round 1, while President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens has said that, while Williams is progressing well, they are still holding true to that 4-6-week timeline. This has been a significant loss, as Williams was having a stellar season.

Williams’ Impact on the Celtics

Before his absence, Williams was in the running for the Defensive Player of the Year award. His brilliance on that side of the ball was finally beginning to garner the attention of the national media. Udoka put him in the best possible position to succeed.

Udoka’s switch-everything defensive system only works because of the role Williams plays. Instead of guarding opposing centers, Williams matches up with wings in the corner. This allows him to play help defense and drives and block shots that would otherwise go fairly uncontested.

The Celtics have built an elite frontline of defenders such as Marcus Smart, Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum, but without Williams lurking near the paint to clean up all their mistakes, the scheme wouldn’t work. Boston is only able to be so aggressive on defense because Williams acts as a safety valve.

Williams is such a unique defensive talent that it’s impossible to replace what he brings to the floor. Boston’s defensive system heavily relies on what he is able to do on that side of the ball. However, while no one can replace Williams, the Celtics have enough manpower to hold things down until he returns.

Celtics Frontcourt Without Williams

With Williams sidelined, Udoka has tested out a couple of starting units. Initially, he went with a starting frontcourt of Grant Williams and Al Horford. But shortly after, he began to roll with Horford and Daniel Theis as his starters. That’s the pairing he stuck with down the stretch of the regular season.

Horford and Theis have the best defensive rating of any duo on the Celtics with at least 50 minutes played since Williams went down. Yet, Nets wing Bruce Brown still felt compelled to take a shot at Boston’s frontcourt. He said that, with Williams sidelined, Brooklyn should be able to go right at Horford and Theis.

And while neither is as good a rim protector as Williams, the veterans are fully capable of keeping things under control until Time Lord returns. It’s unknown when that will be, but a return for Game 1 is officially out of the question.

Source: Heavy

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