August 16, 2022

Celtics

Williams was second in the league in blocked shots this season, which reminded Satch Sanders of what his former teammate would do.

Robert Williams’ shot-blocking ability draws comparisons to the all-time greats. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Robert Williams made a name for himself in his young NBA career by making plays with his jumping ability.

The 6-foot-9 Celtics center has a vertical of 40 inches, which helped him reach 12 feet in the air to make blocks in an NBA game. Williams broke out this season, his first full season as a starter. He recorded 2.2 blocks in 29.6 minutes per game, ranking second in blocks per game in the entire league.

Former Celtic Satch Sanders, who won eight titles during his 13 seasons in Boston, compared Williams to one of his teammates and one of the greatest players in defensive history: Bill Russell.

When asked in a recent interview with Andscape’s Marc J. Spears, Sanders shared that the greatest athletic game he’s ever seen from Russell is something Williams could accomplish.

“Three blocked shots on one defensive possession,” Sanders said of a play Russell once played. “This young man [Robert] Williams, with the Celtics now, he has that ability. But I don’t know if he can do it. You have to drive a little. Russell blocked a shot in the air after the shot was thrown. Then he blocked another shot from the other side of the rim. Then the ball went to the foul line. A guy tried to do a little jump, and he blocked it. Three shots.

Russell has often been considered one of the best – if not the best – shot blocker in NBA history. Unfortunately for Russell, the NBA didn’t start recording blocked shots until 1973, four years after the legend retired from the Celtics.

But several NBA players of the 1960s shared stories of Russell’s defensive prowess. Sanders recalled the first time he saw Russell play, at a college All-Star game at Madison Square Garden. Sanders, who was in high school at the time, saw Russell imposing his will defensively on another of his future Celtic teammates.

“Russell was laughing at [Tommy] Heinsohn because the first time USF played Holy Cross, Heinsohn was trying to be tough,” Sanders told Spears. “When the ref was about to throw the ball, boom, he caught Russell in the body. Heinsohn scored about six or eight points. Russ chased Heiney everywhere. Once Heinsohn shot from the corner and Russell came out and caught the shot in the air. He just played his ass off because Heinsohn tried to intimidate him. It was a mistake.

“Then, at dinner, Heinsohn walks into the room and Russell says, ‘Hey, good to see you, Holy Cross terror!’ You know how Russell can laugh. It was the first time I thought, ‘Damn, that’s cold s—.’ Every shot Heinsohn tried, he got up. This man was on it. I saw some serious defense playing, chasing guys, grabbing their ass in the air. Russel was young. He was angry because people chose players rather than Russell even though USF [went] undefeated for two consecutive years.

Williams and the 2022 Celtics are trying to carve their name alongside Sanders, Russell and Heinsohn. Boston is currently tied 2-2 in the NBA Finals against Golden State.

Sanders, who played power forward, named two perimeter players as his favorites on the Celtics, but told Spears why Williams is important to this Boston team.

“I like Jaylen a lot. I like the combination of Jaylen and Smart. They’re my favorite players,” Sanders said. of course is a young man [Robert] Williams, if he gets a little more offensive. Sometimes he’s 4, 5 feet from the hoop and you pass him out. I hear people in the media say how wonderful it is to pass the ball for a 3-point shot. I think there must be an impact inside too.

Williams was injured the entire postseason after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee in late March. The injury plagued Williams’ play throughout the Celtics’ run to the Finals, forcing him to miss six games and making him look limited in several more.

But Williams is starting to make his mark in the 2022 NBA Finals. In Game 3, he had eight points and 10 rebounds while putting on multiple hustle plays to record four blocks and three steals in 26 minutes to help the Celtics win. to win. He looked just as brilliant in the Game 4 loss, scoring seven points, grabbing 12 rebounds, delivering four assists, blocking two shots and recording a steal in a playoff-high 31 minutes.

It looks like the Celtics will need Williams’ presence in the paint to win their 18th title, which would be the most in NBA history. The Celtics will face the Warriors again on Monday in San Francisco for Game 5, where the winner will only need one win to become champions.