August 20, 2022

BOSTON — Robert Williams III has its good days and bad days.

The Boston Celtics big man underwent surgery on March 30 after suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee. He returned to action for Game 3 of the season opener against the Brooklyn Nets in just under a month.

Since then, he’s been listed as questionable ahead of every game he’s appeared in in the 2022 NBA Playoffs.

His availability status was not a protective strategy to get rid of the opposition. Team staffers are legitimately unsure whether he will be participating on matchdays.

Williams III fights valiantly through immense pain.

“Honestly, I take it day by day,” Williams III told Yahoo Sports. “I can feel good right now, then the next two hours, it’s quite painful. I try to take it day by day as much as possible.

The 24-year-old is coming off an exceptional season. He anchored the league’s best defense with 2.2 blocks per game, placing him fourth in the league, and he was awarded second-team All-Defensive.

Now that his team is one of the last two standing and the Golden State Warriors lead 3-2 in the series, Williams III is no longer himself. He hasn’t been there since his return. His playoff minutes average is 22.3, seven minutes shy of his regular-season average.

You can see how hard he works as he walks the court. Sometimes he wiggles that left knee after getting a bump or when he suddenly changes direction, and he bends down for a minute in the hope that the pain subsides enough to continue.

Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III defends Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green in Game 5 of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center in San Francisco on June 13, 2022. (Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

He has come so far, but he can only go so far. This is the frustrating part for the defensive star.

“It means a lot to me,” Williams III told Yahoo Sports. “It’s difficult to manage. When I’m there, the adrenaline and the energy takes over, so I don’t really think about it during games, but it certainly affects me a lot.

It’s an arduous process between games to get him to a comfort level where the pain is tolerable for game days. He describes the system in place as “boring” and “repetitive”.

“Icing, deep tissue massages, treatment, wait three or four hours, then repeat the process until [it’s time to sleep]”Williams III told Yahoo Sports. “Usually the same routine. Maybe a little BFR [blood flow restriction training] here and there, but generally this same ritual.

But that’s not the extent of the lengths Williams III has worn in uniform in the playoffs.

Williams had his knee drained multiple times in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

“I really had a lot of knee drainage the last set,” Williams III confirmed to Yahoo Sports. “I stopped emptying it because it was useless, in my opinion. My knee kept filling up with fluid. So I kind of learned to deal with it so I could play.

The medical staff assured him that he was no longer at risk of the repaired knee getting worse. It’s all about pain tolerance.

“We’re going to take what he can give us,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka told Yahoo Sports. “If he can go, we will monitor him accordingly. If he can’t go, we understand. Rob is a fighter. That’s why we love it.

Williams III had his moments in the Finals when he flies around blocking shots, and then there are times when he limps.

Some wonder if it’s even worth subjecting his body to so much agony, and to that he has a retort.

“Damn, we’re trying to win,” Williams III told Yahoo Sports. “It’s crazy. I’m living my dream right now. Obviously it would be much better if we win, but my thing is to be accountable to my team. Letting them know I’m here through it all, and I hope the message will be passed on to everyone.