Celtics take a commanding 3-1 lead over Hawks behind dominant interior performances from Robert Williams III

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By Webdesk


The Boston Celtics made 21 3-pointers and lost in Game 3 of their first round against the Atlanta Hawks. How did they do? By losing just about every facet of the game within the arc to Atlanta. The Hawks defeated the Celtics 48-29 on Friday. They outscored them in the paint 54-40. Trae Young sealed the game in a narrow fourth quarter, hitting floater after floater against Boston’s conservative pick-and-roll drop coverage. The Celtics desperately needed Sunday to assert themselves in the paint again.

They did that behind Robert Williams III. The oft-injured big man played one of the best playoff games of his career on Sunday. He finished the night with 13 points, 15 rebounds, two blocks and two steals to secure Boston’s victory. More importantly, those teamwide figures that worked against the Celtics in Game 3 turned around in Game 4. The Celtics recovered from the Hawks 49-42 on Sunday, surpassing them in the paint 56-44.

It was a great performance from a player Boston has so far been hesitant to use too much in the playoffs. In the first three games against Atlanta, Williams played less than 23 minutes. In Game 4, he played 29. He’ll have to keep up that kind of workload in the next two rounds, with Joel Embiid waiting for them and Giannis Antetokounmpo possibly in the Eastern Conference Finals. Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla was clear after Game 4 that in order to reach their ceiling, the Celtics need more outings like this from their burgeoning star center.

“Rob is the kind of man who needs to realize that he has many gifts and many abilities,” Mazzulla said. “It goes back to what you always talk about. Guys need to feel valued, need to feel empowered. Every conversation with Rob is about how when he’s at his best, we’re a different team.”

The Celtics are generally a team below the rim. Al Horford and Grant Williams have their virtues, but neither offers the verticality or closeout speed that Williams has. That will be more useful in some matchups than others, but it’s a tool Boston needs in its arsenal. Game 3 was a great example of what the Celtics look like when they lose games in the paint. Williams made sure it didn’t happen again in Game 4, and now the Celtics are just one win away from the second round.

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