2022 NBA Finals: Robert Williams rediscovers game-changing ability vs. Warriors

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Robert Williams battles through pain to deliver as Game 3 X-factor originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON -- Remember this Robert Williams, Celtics fans?

The Celtics big man has been nowhere near 100 percent this postseason since returning from left meniscus surgery in the first round. He mustered just two points and two rebounds in a Game 2 loss to the Warriors at Golden State.

But Williams delivered a vintage "Time Lord" performance in Wednesday night's Game 3 at TD Garden, stuffing the box score with eight points, 10 rebounds, three steals and four blocks in a 116-100 victory that gave the Celtics a 2-1 series lead in the 2022 NBA Finals.

Celtics-Warriors takeaways: C's show grit, resolve in Game 3 victory

That's not to say Williams' knee is magically healed; the 24-year-old played much of Game 3 with a noticeable limp. But when your team is on the doorstep of an NBA championship, your pain tolerance goes up a bit.

"I think it's a matter of playing through pain," Williams said. "Obviously, not getting the time off that I need for this injury. But ... we'll focus on that after the season."

The Celtics benefited mightily from Williams' "short-sighted" injury mindset in Game 3. Boston dominated the paint on both ends, outrebounding Golden State 47-31 and holding a 15-6 edge on the offensive glass.

Williams snagged three of those offensive boards, helping the C's impose their will on the small-ball Warriors with 52 points in the paint compared to Golden State's 26.

"That was really the difference in the game," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of Boston's offensive rebounding advantage. "We made several stops, especially in the second half where we had a chance to cut into the lead or make a little push, and they got offensive boards. Those were tough."

But Williams may have made an even bigger impact on defense, where he showcased his trademark hops to make the Warriors think twice about their drives in the lane.

"Yeah, it was huge," head coach Ime Udoka said of Williams' defensive effort. "Not only the shots that he did block ... but the ones he altered and his presence down there of course deters guys from driving. He was a big part of what we did."

While Celtics fans grew accustomed to Williams' game-altering defensive performances in the regular season, they've been more scarce in the postseason as he battles through knee pain.

Udoka has done his best to manage his big man's injury -- Williams has only played 20-plus minutes in back-to-back games once since suffering a left knee bone bruise in the Milwaukee series -- but credit goes to the fourth-year big man for gutting out an ailment that may have sidelined him earlier in his career.

He decided to go out there and put his big boy pants on and suck it up and go crazy.

Marcus Smart on Robert Williams playing through injury

"It's been rough," Williams admitted of his injury. "Throwing everything at it. Usually it's more sore the day after the game, obviously, adrenaline going down. But we did some different things today, got on the bike a little bit earlier before the game. I benefited from it."

Williams' knee has prevented him from delivering strong performances in back-to-back games this postseason. But when he's right, he can make a huge impact in his series against an undersized Warriors team that has no interior presence outside Kevon Looney.

If Williams can find a way to repeat his Game 3 effort in Friday's Game 4, the Celtics have a very good chance of taking a commanding 3-1 lead in this series.

"When he's protecting that paint and he's moving the way he's moving, it makes us that much more dangerous," Celtics guard Marcus Smart said of Williams.

"(I told him), 'If you can go, we'll take 20 percent of you better than none of you.' He understood that, and he decided to go out there and put his big boy pants on and suck it up and go crazy."