So far, there hasn’t been any consistency in the Boston Celtics & Miami Heat’s Eastern Conference Finals series. Whether it be the ridiculously lopsided nature of each game, the players’ performance on the court, or even which players end up taking the court, the Celtics & Heat have embarked on a wild ride early on in this series.
The most consistent aspect of the series has been Robert Williams’ defense for the Celtics. When he’s on the floor, Boston has looked like a completely different team, especially on defense, where he lurks in the paint, basically daring Miami to try and score at the rim. His defensive contributions have had quite an impact on the Heat’s star center Bam Adebayo, and this matchup could determine who wins what is now a best of three series.
Adebayo has been practically invisible when Williams is on the floor
Game 3 of this series will go down as the Bam Adebayo game. With Jimmy Butler being forced to miss the entire second half and the Celtics furiously rallying from a 26-point deficit, Adebayo stepped up and carried Miami to a win. He was dominant in every area of the game, as he finished with 31 points, ten rebounds, six assists, four steals, and a block.
In the other three games of this series, though, Adebayo has come nowhere near reaching those totals. His averages in those three games are 8.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 1.6 APG. The common denominator in those three contests is that Robert Williams has been active, whereas he missed Game 3 with left knee soreness.
Williams typically won’t find himself individually matched up against Adebayo. Still, his paint presence has dissuaded Adebayo, and all of Miami’s players, for that matter, from trying to go to the paint. Adebayo lives at the rim, and while he can knock down mid-range jumpers, too, he’s not going to get many open looks there when he finds himself against Al Horford or Grant Williams.
After Adebayo’s masterclass in Game 3, he went back to being a spectator for most of Game 4. He scored nine points, but he only took five shots. And much of that is due to Williams acting as that second wall of defense in the paint. Adebayo can get by Horford or Grant Williams, but with the “Time Lord” sitting behind them in the paint, he’s been neutralized for much of this series.
The Celtics are going to need Williams on the court if they want to make it to the NBA Finals
Williams has been battling injuries for the entire postseason. He initially was out after recovering from a torn meniscus and has been dealing with a cranky knee after taking a shot from Giannis Antetokounmpo in their previous series against the Milwaukee Bucks. But when he has played against the Heat, he has been arguably their most important player.
Not only is Williams locking up the paint on defense, but he’s creating offense on the other end of the court too. The Heat love to switch and rotate as the ball moves, but when they do that, it often ends with Williams being left alone in the paint, which results in either an easy lob to him or free throws because Miami has no choice but to foul him.
Williams is the guy that can tilt the scales in Boston’s favor and help them win this series. He’s locking up Miami’s second-best player in Adebayo, and right now, no one else on the Heat has proven to be capable of stepping up and taking some of the pressure off of Butler. The only thing stopping him at this point is his health.
Initially, it looked like this series would be won by the healthiest team, which may still ring true. At first, it looked like Boston would be in trouble, with guys like Williams, Horford, and Marcus Smart all having their own health issues. Now it’s Miami who may be in trouble, as they were without Tyler Herro in Game 4 and have a laundry list of players playing at less than 100 percent, with Butler being among the most important names on that list.
But the most crucial player in this series is, without a doubt, Robert Williams. Not just because of how good Boston has been when he’s on the court, but because of how much of an impact he has on Miami’s offensive game plan. If Williams can stay healthy for the rest of this series, Boston will have a good shot at advancing to the NBA Finals.