Don't overlook the importance of the Celtics winning the big men's Game 4 battle

The big men of the Celtics don't have a cool name like Heat's Edrice Femi "Bam" Adebayo. Al Horford and Robert Williams usually only reply to Al and Rob, which […]

USA About: Celtics Publish: 05/25/2022 Edit: 05/25/2022 Author: Gardener

Game 4The big men of the Celtics don't have a cool name like Heat's Edrice Femi "Bam" Adebayo. Al Horford and Robert Williams mostly just reply to Al and Rob, which is the naming equivalent of basic fundamentals, although the latter is still occasionally screamed as "Timelord". But in the Celtics' tense 102-82 loss in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Finals Monday night, Horford and Williams were so effective at both ends of the court, particularly in neutralizing Game 3 tormentor Adebayo, that they might as well "Wham" Horford and "Slam" could have been Williams. Horford delivered one of the strangest stat lines you'll see this postseason for a player crucial to the win - it was a Draymond Green special of sorts. In 33 minutes he made just two shots, hitting a 3-pointer and two free throws for his 5 points. This was one of those nights where his value and importance could be found in boxing everywhere else: he snagged 13 rebounds, blocked 4 shots - including one in the fourth quarter where he was either greeting the crowd or glancing into the distance , where the pulverized basketball landed - and dealt 3 assists. Perhaps most importantly, he set a physical tone by crushing 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 straight away: Horford Adebayo snatched the ball away on the first move of the game. "Bam made it work in the last game and the lads take it personally," said Celtics coach Ime Udoka afterwards. Horford also contributed his usual array of intangibles. After Marcus Smart was out with a high ankle sprain, Horford subtly took over some of the ball-handling duties and made a point of pushing the ball himself onto the court after virtually every one of his rebounds. We should go beyond calling Horford unsung because most fans know how good he is. But it was nice to see him get a little "sung to" by the Garden crowd midway through the third quarter as, after stealing the ball from Kyle Lowry on one possession and blocking a shot on the next, he got a loud standing ovation . There was a lot of pre-game excitement waiting to see who was in and out for both teams, that physicality of that particular series and the long season as a whole took its toll on both squads. The word Williams, who missed Game 3 with knee pain and underwent meniscus surgery in late March, would play seemed crucial to the Celtics' chances, even more so than the fact that the ground leader and defensive threat Smart was there are outside. Adebayo throttled Celtics backup center Daniel Theis in the bubble two years ago, and he did it again in the Heat's Game 3 breakaway's dominating opening minutes before Udoka decided it was prudent to opt for others options to decide. The Celtics, faced with the threat of falling 3-1 behind and watching this extraordinary season (well, since January anyway) gradually turn black, needed Williams to play and they needed him to play well to play. And what a relief it was that when the Celtics took control early and refused to back down, he wasn't just trying his sore knee but being his usual active, often electrifying, self. Williams scored 12 points on 4 of 5 shots, hit all four of his free throw attempts (he's made 14 of 16 from the line in the postseason), grabbed 9 rebounds, blocked two shots and made his presence known to the Heat at all times. "Every time they went to the basket," noted Brian Scalabrine on NBC Sports Boston's postgame show, "they kept an eye on where Robert Williams was." On offense, Williams remained relatively earthbound by his usual high-flying standards. He caught a lob from a driving Horford for an early slam, but his biggest contribution was doing some grunt work and helping the Celtics retain possession - he had five offensive rebounds - on a night when the Celtics only 39.7 percent shot. It was the Celtics' 25th rebound of the night to Heat's bare nine when Rob Williams found a miss from Grant Williams 10 minutes, 41 seconds into the second quarter. The Celtics finished the first half with 41 rebounds, including nine from Williams and eight from Horford, for a total of 69 rebounds. Williams hobbled slightly as he finally checked out about 7 minutes from time, which immediately raises concerns about his status for Wednesday's Game 5 in Miami. "The knee feels great... [just] wearing it day in and day out and spending a lot of time with the trainers. On Monday night, Williams' knee reacted well enough to help the Celtics react exactly as they needed in Game 4. And so the countdown continues: Two more victories bring the Celtics into the final.

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