Celtics shouldn’t have let Robert Williams play again so soon

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Robert Williams III is going to feel pressure — much of it from himself — to get back on the court for Game 4 against the Miami Heat. The Boston Celtics lost at home on Saturday and surely do not want to go down 3-1 heading back to Miami. Kyle Lowry returned to the floor for the Heat in Game 3 and he played better than he did in either game against the Philadelphia 76ers while dealing with a hamstring injury.

Jimmy Butler left Game 3 with inflammation in the same knee that kept him out of Game 5 in the Heat’s first-round series against the Hawks, but he returned the next game which was the start of their second-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. On Monday the Celtics will either be up against a wounded Heat, or if Butler plays, the healthiest that team has been the entire postseason. Either way, the Celtics would greatly benefit from their best rim protector on the floor but they need to exercise extreme caution with Williams for however long they remain in this postseason.

When Williams suffered that torn left meniscus late in the regular season, it was always assumed that he would be back at some point during the postseason. The meniscus surgery that Williams underwent removed the damaged part from his knee as opposed to stitching it up and dealing with a longer recovery. According to Ime Udoka, the decision for that particular surgery was made by the Celtics’ medical team — not Williams — and surgery was performed by their doctor. Williams’ timetable for a return was 4-6 weeks.

He returned to the floor 26 days after the injury during the Celtics’ first round sweep of the Brooklyn Nets. The same knee would be injured in a collision with Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 3 of that series, 16 days after his return. That bone bruise would keep him out for the rest of the second round. Williams returned for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but was not able to play in the Celtics’ 108-103 Game 3 loss.

Williams was going to return in this postseason as long as the Celtics didn’t get swept and dominated by the Nets in the first round. With the way that the doctors elected to handle the injury, that timeline was reasonable.

That being said, the Celtics brought Williams back way too quickly in the postseason, and not only because they would go on to sweep the Nets and win the final three games fairly convincingly. He wasn’t even out for the full four weeks before returning to play 25 minutes in a playoffs series. Then a couple of weeks later that surgically-repaired knee takes a shot from the Milwaukee Bucks’ army tank of a forward.

The play incensed Udoka, but Antetokounmpo did nothing different from the way he usually attacks the basket, and Williams wasn’t set to take the charge. Antetokounmpo didn’t even hit Williams directly in the knee. It was full leg to leg contact that could make someone wonder how a hit like that could cause a bone bruise deep enough with swelling to keep Williams out of four games since that play.

When Ja Morant suffered a deep bone bruise that kept him out for the final three games of the Memphis Grizzlies six-game loss to the Golden State Warriors, Jordan Poole’s knee rammed directly into his. Not only that, but Poole then appeared to reach for the ball but instead grabbed Morant’s knee less than a second after the initial impact — one of the many “broke the code” plays in that series.

Antetokounmpo may be an ocean liner compared to Poole, but the contact with Williams’ knee was not nearly as direct. The fact that the contact between Antetokounmpo and Williams resulted in an injury, could suggest that the knee wasn’t ready for all the rigors of NBA basketball. WIlliams has played well when on the court, but it’s hard to believe his knee had completely recovered 26 days into a maximum 42 day timetable, when many injuries this NBA season have kept players out for longer than what was initially reported.

Lonzo Ball was supposed to return from the “small” meniscus tear he suffered in late January in six to eight weeks, but ended up missing the rest of the season. Zion Williamson was supposed to be ready the first night of the regular season with a stress fracture in his foot, but would not play a single game. Draymond Green’s calf injury would be later diagnosed as a back injury and he would end up missing 30 games as opposed to the initially optimistic, at least two weeks.

The Celtics were willing to move faster with the recovery for their injured player than those player’s teams were, and Williams suffered a setback. Now he’s going to want to get back out onto the TD Garden floor in Game 4 and even this series, but it’s time for the Celtics to reverse course, and keep Williams off the floor for the rest of this season.

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