OKLAHOMA CITY — Celtics center Robert Williams stood in a hallway in the bowels of Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday afternoon as teammate Brad Wanamaker stood about 40 feet away and checked to make sure there were no incoming obstacles.
“Ready, set, go!” Wanamaker yelled.
At that, Williams exploded down the hall at full speed, his last in a set of pregame sprints that signaled he is getting even closer to returning after being sidelined for two months because of a hip edema.
About a half-hour later, Williams came into Boston’s locker room dripping in sweat. He let out such a loud scream that it startled the team staffers standing near him. Then he let out another. Marcus Smart called from across the room to ask if everything was OK.
“They let me out of the cage!” Williams said. “I’m ready.”
Williams had just completed his first full workout since his injury.
“There was no limit on my jumps,” he explained a few minutes later. “I could dunk as much as I want, run as much as I want. It’s really like the first time they haven’t been telling me I can’t jump, or you only get 20 jumps a day or something. So just being as explosive as I remember I was is just a great feeling.”
Williams worked out with assistant coach Jerome Allen and backup center Vincent Poirier, focusing on basic pick-and-roll actions and finishes.
The center is averaging 3.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game this season. Despite those modest numbers, he gives the Celtics frontcourt a rim-running, shot-blocking dynamic that’s different than what Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter bring.
Williams said an exact return date still has not been set, but that his MRIs and evaluations have continued to yield good news. Coach Brad Stevens previously said that Williams is expected to rejoin full practices after the All-Star break.
“[I’ve just been] feeling like I’m not really with my teammates at times,” Williams said. “And I just miss the game of basketball. I miss the atmosphere. All of it.”
Walker hoped for reunion
After the Celtics’ win over the Hawks on Friday night, point guard Kemba Walker was stunned when a reporter asked for his thoughts about his former Hornets teammate, Marvin Williams, agreeing to a deal with the Bucks after having his contract bought out by Charlotte.
With a smile, Walker jokingly said he was angry and later added that he had spent several weeks trying to persuade Williams, one of his close friends, to join him in Boston whenever he received his inevitable buyout from the Hornets. He said that he was going to call him once he left TD Garden.
On Sunday afternoon, Walker said that he later saw there was a group text string with Williams and other Charlotte friends talking about the decision. He said he did end up calling Williams that night.
“He said that he wished he could have gotten to Boston with me, but I’m just happy for him,” Walker said. “That’s my guy, man. That’s one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever been around. That’s my vet. I was upset that we didn’t get the chance to get him, but I’m happy for him. He deserves it. He’s been in the league for a very long time. He works hard. He deserves to be on a winning team.”
Williams averaged 6.7 points and 2.7 rebounds for Charlotte this season. Walker said that, as a competitor, he did not love seeing him go to the top team in the East. But, as a friend, he loved it.
“Whatever they ask him for, he’ll do,” Walker said. “He’s going to bring toughness, veteran leadership, just a different type of energy. He’s just one of those guys you love to have in your locker room. He’s just so positive and he’s just a solid dude. One of the best I’ve ever been around.”
The Celtics have 15 players on their roster, so if they do sign a player from the buyout market, they will need to waive someone.
Tatum relishes challenge
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and Rockets point guard Chris Paul were matched up throughout Boston’s 112-111 win on Sunday. For Tatum, it was a great experience.
“I’ve known CP ever since I was in high school, someone I’ve always looked up to, been kind of a mentor,” he said. “I love Chris. He’s one of the greatest. Competing against him is a lot of fun.”
The 6-foot-8-inch Tatum was not surprised that Paul, who is just 6 feet tall, wanted the challenge of guarding him.
“He’s a competitor, a great defender, and he’ll always take the challenge no matter how tall or short you are,” Tatum said. “I knew that going into the game.”
Smart received a technical foul as the teams went to their locker rooms after the second quarter. He said the call surprised him.
“I have no clue [why it was called],” he said. “That’s what’s crazy. I asked [a referee] about the block they gave me on my third foul. And then all of a sudden, I got a tech right after. So I have no clue, but I’m over it. It is what it is. We won.”