Celtics center Robert Williams has begun rehabbing after undergoing surgery on the torn meniscus in his left knee Wednesday morning. Coach Ime Udoka said Williams will soon begin two-a-day workouts as he tries to regain full range of motion and builds up his strength in the leg.
“It’s initially just the movement, the movement part,” Udoka said. “He’s in the meetings, in the gym, in good spirits. And so getting him around and just getting that flexibility back in, off top. And then we can kind of build up pretty quickly from there.”
Williams is expected to be sidelined 4-6 weeks, which could put him in line to return in time for the second round of the playoffs.
“Rob does a lot of things for us defensively, stuff that really no one in the league does,” guard Derrick White said. “So there’s really no replacing him, but just being in the right position, staying with the mind-set we have, and just being physical and stuff like that.”
The vax factor
Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which has been in place since January, requires all visiting NBA players to be fully vaccinated to appear in games in Toronto. And unless that rule changes soon, a playoff matchup against the Raptors could create some issues for opposing teams.
Nets star Kyrie Irving’s refusal to receive the vaccine has been well-documented, and New York recently lifted its mandate, allowing Irving to play in home games again. But visiting players were always allowed to play in Brooklyn regardless of their vaccine status, so the situation around the league was less clear.
Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford all missed the Celtics game in Toronto Monday night. Brown and Tatum were held out with knee soreness, and Horford sat for personal reasons. Tatum has publicly stated that he is fully vaccinated.
Horford was asked about his status after the loss to the Heat Wednesday.
“Yeah, we’re clear on it, and I’ll be ready to play wherever,” he said.
The Celtics have declined to comment publicly on the vaccine status of individual players. Udoka said that, ultimately, the players have to decide on their own whether to take the vaccine.
“It’s up to them, that’s their decision,” Udoka said. “But it’s been two years now that that’s all been on the table and everybody knows the restrictions or whatever. And so we leave that up to the guys. It’s their personal choice. And there’s not much discussion that we have with them.”
Williams and Marcus Smart have both generated considerable Defensive Player of the Year buzz, but Udoka emphasized that the Celtics’ league-leading unit is hardly a one-man show. Leading scorers Tatum and Brown have both had a significant impact on that end of the floor.
“When you look at them, just from a physical standpoint, they should be great defenders,” Udoka said. “I think it gets overlooked at times because of their scoring prowess, and Marcus and Rob are more known as defensive players.
“But that’s why we know we have strength in our numbers as a defensive team. There’s no real weakness out there from a personnel standpoint.
“And like I said, just because they can score the ball so well, I think they’ve kind of been labeled as scorers, but obviously very capable and been willing to do it all year and that’s why we’re as good as we are.”
A loss to learn from
After the Celtics practiced Thursday, Udoka was seen sitting and having a chat with Tatum on the side of the court. He said later that the conversation was mostly centered on the team’s 106-98 loss to the Heat Wednesday.
“I was telling him we got caught up a little bit in complaining too much,” Udoka said, “and then our execution down the stretch wasn’t the best.
“So, areas we can be encouraged about — not playing our best and basically holding the team to about 102, minus the free throws at the end, and it was 27-15 fourth quarter. We can improve in a lot of ways and it’s a very winnable game.”