Don’t overlook the importance to the Celtics of winning the battle of the greats


Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Robert Williams swarmed Miami’s Bam Adebayo and took the ball in the third quarter on Monday.

The Celtics’ starting big men don’t have a cool name like the Heat’s Edrice Femi “Bam” Adebayo.

Al Horford and Robert Williams mostly only respond to Al and Rob, which is the name equivalent of the basic fundamentals, though the latter is still shouted as “Timelord” on occasion.

But in the Celtics’ uneventful 102-82 rout of the Celtics’ series in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Final on Monday night, Horford and Williams were so effective on both sides of the court, especially in neutralizing the executioner of the Match 3 Adebayo. , that they might as well have been called “Wham” Horford and “Slam” Williams.

Horford delivered one of the weirdest stat lines you’ll see this post-season for a player who was crucial to the win – he was something of a Draymond Green Special. In 33 minutes, he took just two shots, hitting a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws for his 5 points.

It was one of those nights where his value and importance was everywhere else in the box score: he grabbed 13 rebounds, blocked 4 shots – including one in the fourth quarter in which he either waved to the crowd, or pretended to look away to see where the pulverized basketball had landed – and dished out 3 assists.

Perhaps most importantly, he set the physical tone by smothering Adebayo, who had just 9 points and 6 rebounds after dominating the Heat’s Game 3 win (31 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals ). And he did it immediately: on the first play of the match, Horford stripped the ball from Adebayo. That night anyway, Bam couldn’t handle the Wham.

“Bam started the last game, and the guys are taking that personally,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said afterwards.

Horford also brought his usual array of intangibles. With Marcus Smart out with a sprained ankle, Horford subtly took over some of the ball handling duties, making it a point to push the ball downfield himself after virtually every one of his rebounds.

That was impressive for a 36-year-old carrying a heavy playoff workload. We should be past the point of calling Horford underrated because most fans know how good he is. But it was nice to see him get a little blackmailed by the Garden crowd midway through the third quarter when, after stealing the ball from Kyle Lowry on one possession and blocking a shot on the next, he received a loud standing ovation.

And Williams? His contributions are ever more visceral. There was a lot of pre-game suspense waiting to see who was and who was missing for both teams, with that physicality of this particular series and the long season as a whole taking its toll on both rosters.

Word that Williams, who missed Game 3 with knee pain and underwent meniscus surgery in late March, would play seemed critical to the Celtics’ chances, even more so than having ground leader and defensive threat Smart. the low. Adebayo strangled Celtics backup center Daniel Theis in the bubble two years ago, and he did it again in the opening minutes of Heat’s Game 3 runaway before Udoka decided he was wise to opt for other options.

The Celtics, faced with the threat of falling behind 3-1 and seeing this extraordinary season (well, since January anyway) start to turn black, needed Williams to play, and they needed him to play well. And so what a relief it was that he not only tried on the sore knee, but was his usual active and often electrifying self as the Celtics took control early and refused to let go.

Williams scored 12 points on 4 of 5 shooting, made all four of his free throw attempts (he went 14 of 16 from the line in the playoffs), grabbed 9 rebounds, blocked two shots and made his presence known to the Heat . time.

“Every time they went to the basket,” Brian Scalabrine noted on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame show, “they kept tabs on where Robert Williams was.”

On offense, Williams remained relatively down-to-earth by his usual standards. He caught a lob from a driving Horford for an early slam, but his biggest contribution was doing grunt work and helping the Celtics retain possession – he had five offensive rebounds – on a night when the Celtics shot just 39.7%.

When Rob Williams tipped a miss from Grant Williams 10 minutes, 41 seconds into the second quarter, it was already the Celtics’ 25th rebound of the night to just nine for the Heat. The Celtics finished with 41 rebounds in the first half, including nine from Williams and eight from Horford, and 69 rebounds overall.

Williams was limping slightly when he came out permanently with about 7 minutes left, which immediately raised concerns about his status for Game 5 in Miami on Wednesday. Udoka said removing it was “preventive”.

Williams didn’t seem too bothered afterwards.

“It’s great to be back with my guys,” he said. “The knee feels good… [just] take it day to day, spend a lot of time with the coaches. Throwing lots of scenarios at him, see how he reacts.

On Monday night, Williams’ knee reacted well enough to help the Celtics react exactly as they wanted in Game 4. And so the countdown continues: two more wins put the Celtics through to the Finals. Six others get them a banner. Here’s to good health the rest of the way.


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