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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Celtics have a chance at a title run, but health is key

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Bianca Oppedisano
Robert Williams of the Boston Celtics performs a slam dunk. Illustration by Bianca Oppedisano / Mass Media Staff

When Boston’s star center Robert Williams landed awkwardly after a dunk in the Boston Celtics’ 134–­­112 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 27, every Celtics fan collectively held their breaths. Williams left the game and did not return. It would be revealed the next day that Williams tore the meniscus ligament in his knee and would miss a minimum of four to six weeks. Although the diagnosis was not as bad as some initially feared, not having Williams in the interim term is certainly a loss for the Celtics. The man dubbed “The Timelord” was a huge reason why the Celtics had the number one defense in the league this year, with his penchant for shot-blocking, low-post defending and, on the offensive end of the court, invigorating the TD Garden crowd by catching lob passes and dunking them home. The initial news led Barstool Sports Celtics blogger Dan Greenberg, better known by his nom de plume “Greenie,” to proclaim: “All I ask for is ONE healthy playoff run. That’s it.”
Greenie had good reason to feel so despondent, because up until Williams’ injury, the Celtics were playing like a team that had a real chance to be involved in some high-stakes games deep into spring, and perhaps early summer. After their season was heading for disaster around late December 2021, the Celtics have been one of the best teams of 2022. Their record of 30–10 in the 40 games since New Year’s was the third best in the entire NBA, behind only Phoenix and Memphis, and their net rating—points scored minus points allowed per 100 team possessions—of plus 12.3 was the best in the league. The Celtics truly found a formula that worked for them; after struggling to generate chemistry in the early part of the season, first-year head coach Ime Udoka found multiple lineups that paid off handsomely for him. His go-to starting five of Williams, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Grant Williams had the best net rating of any lineup in the league, with at least 20 games played in 2022. The second best? The same one, except with Al Horford in Grant Williams’ place.
During their run of dominance, the Celtics beat several contending teams, often in a very convincing fashion. Tatum scored 53 points to outlast Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets in a thriller at the Garden on March 6. They blew out Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco on March 16. They locked down MVP candidates like Denver’s Nikola Jokic and the Grizzlies’ Ja Morant. The Celtics were winning at such a level that some commentators began to remark that perhaps they should scale it back a bit, since, as we know, the playoffs wouldn’t be nearly as easy, right?
Williams’ injury certainly dampened what had been an incredible run by the Celtics. Former Celtics player and current ESPN personality Kendrick Perkins said that the Celtics wouldn’t make it past the second round of the playoffs without Robert Williams. But spirits of the Celtics’ faithful were lifted on March 30 when ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Williams’ meniscus tear would only take about four to six weeks to heal, potentially allowing a return for him by the second of the playoffs…should the Celtics make it there. That would be a huge lift to the team, given that Williams is arguably their best defender, and given the sheer number of elite scorers the Celtics would have to make it past to advance to the finals—Durant, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and others. Regardless, the fact that we’re even talking about a potential championship run shows just how far this team has come this season.

About the Contributors
Jack Sherman, Sports Writer
Bianca Oppedisano, Illustrator