This season has been both encouraging and frustrating for Celtics center Robert Williams. On the court his improvements have been obvious, and he has shown that he could be an important part of the team’s core for years to come. But he has also been held back by a mixture of maladies.
He missed most of last season with a hip bone edema, and some recurring hip pain has kept him out for several games this year. He also missed four games in January after testing positive for COVID-19, and on Wednesday he returned after being sidelined for seven games because of knee pain.
“We for sure missed his presence,” forward Jayson Tatum said. “Glad he’s back. I love playing with Rob. Rob’s easily probably my favorite person to play with. Just the energy he brings, his presence, all the little things he does on the floor.”
Williams entered Friday’s game against the Spurs averaging 8.1 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game this season. He said he has dealt with mild knee tendinitis throughout his career, and that the Celtics have helped him manage it since his rookie season. But he said this current bout is unrelated to his hip issue, and he is hopeful that he will be able to stay healthy and available for the rest of the year.
“It’s always a frustrating situation, being out with an injury at such a critical time, knowing the role I play for my teammates,” Williams said. “It’s all about helping, man, and getting better. I feel like I’m better. I feel like I’m back and ready.”
The Celtics entered Friday night with just nine games left in this condensed season, and they could still realistically finish anywhere between fourth and eighth in the Eastern Conference standings.
The final stretch will offer a chance for Boston to potentially secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. It is also the final opportunity for coach Brad Stevens to experiment with certain lineups, but he indicated Friday that he has gathered enough intelligence on this group, despite the constant absences.
“I think we have a lot of information on our players,” he said. “I think we have a lot of information on our team. I think we know what we would look like in a full roster situation and we know, or at least we have an idea, of what everybody brings to the table in that regard. I feel very comfortable with how we would rotate and how we would go into a normal game, and then places eight, nine, and if we get to 10, depending on a game, will be determined by the matchup.”
Celtics point guard Kemba Walker on Friday missed his third game in a row due to an oblique strain. Stevens said Walker took part in a light shooting workout on Friday morning and is feeling better, but he is not quite ready to return.
Walker suffered the injury when he landed after contesting a jump-shot during Boston’s loss to the Hornets last Sunday. He immediately signaled to the bench to call a timeout and then went directly to the locker room. He returned soon after and finished the game, but has not played since then.