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Celtics center Robert Williams gets first start of the season

Williams blocks a first-quarter shot attempt by Chicago's Ayo Dosunmu Monday night at TD Garden.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Entering Monday’s matchup against the Bulls, Celtics center Robert Williams had come off the bench in each game since making his Dec. 16 debut following offseason left knee surgery, and he had yet to play more than 22 minutes in a contest.

But with point guard Marcus Smart sidelined with a knee contusion, Williams drew his first start of the year, giving Boston extra size against a Bulls frontcourt that has caused issues this season.

Williams had his best game of the year Saturday, when he registered 10 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 3 assists in the Celtics’ win in San Antonio. His strong play, good health, and improving conditioning raised questions about whether he was ready for an expanded workload. Coach Joe Mazzulla initially hinted Williams could remain in a reserve role for the rest of the season. But before Monday’s game, he opened the door for an increase in playing time.

“We’ve thought about it,” Mazzulla said. “He’s not under a restriction as much as it is just a management. As he continues to get better, especially getting in shape — he’s recovering well after each game — and so just more of a process and a management, than anything else.”


Smart was banged up in the third quarter in San Antonio, when he collided with Spurs forward Zach Collins on a screen.

Smart sat out the rest of that game, but Boston held on for a 121-116 win. Mazzulla said he does not expect it to be a long-term absence for Smart.

“He was sore when he woke up this morning,” Mazzulla said, “so we’re just going to take it day-to-day.”

Robert Williams acknowledges the cheers as he's introduced before the start of Monday's game.Maddie Meyer/Getty

After the Spurs game, Smart said X-rays were negative but that he was experiencing soreness in his leg, as well as his ankle.

“I was trying to get over the screen, and [Collins’s] knee literally catches the outside of my knee, right below the knee and right on the [tibula-fibula] joint of the knee, right below it.


“It’s just a bone bruise and as we all know just have to let it run its course.”

. . .

The Bulls entered Monday with just a 19-21 record this season, but they’d found success against Boston, going 2-1 and securing the two wins by an average of 16 points per game.

“A team that’s much better than their record and well-coached,” Mazzulla said. “You’ve got to be very disciplined in how you guard them a couple different ways throughout the game, because of their offensive frequency and what they run at different times of the game.”

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.