Robert Williams has grown immensely over the year, from a rookie who barely played to a core part of Ime Udoka’s dominant starting lineup during the regular season.
Part of the reason the Celtics’ center has been so much better is simple physical maturity — young players in the NBA often struggle to stay on the floor because the game is so rough. But Williams also has formed a productive relationship with head coach Ime Udoka, whose tough demeanor suited the team perfectly. Throughout the season, Udoka challenged Williams to play through bumps and bruises, and Williams — speaking to the media at Finals media day — said he appreciated the motivation.
“Bigger expectations, better expectations for me,” Williams said. “I’ve got a great relationship with Coach Udoka. I’m one of those guys he can say stuff like that to.”
It wasn’t just playing through pain: Udoka also challenged Williams to be tougher against some of the Celtics’ more bruising opponents.
“Playing against the Bucks, he looked at me one time and just told me, you’ve got to stop letting motherf—s run you over; you know what I’m saying?” Williams said. “He knows I respond well when he challenges me like that. …
“This one year with Ime, the years I had with Brad, they weren’t afraid to step on toes. I feel like they helped make players better.”
Udoka shouted out Williams in the locker room after Game 7, noting that Williams played through pain after returning from a meniscus tear suffered late in the season. The Celtics hope Williams can contribute against the Warriors, who will struggle to handle his size and athleticism if he’s healthy. Williams was the only rotation player listed on the injury report prior to Game 1 (Marcus Smart, who has been dealing with several injuries, told reporters he will be out there, noting that “my mom always told me, if you are going to be on the court, you can’t make excuses. If you’re hurt, then sit your tail down.”)
Udoka reiterated that Williams will be day-to-day the rest of the way through the playoffs.
“We’ve kept his minutes lower in the last few games against Miami, and his availability has been up and down based on that game,” Udoka said.
Williams will be grateful for whatever time he gets.
“Thankful to even be sitting up here getting interviewed by you guys in the Finals,” Williams said. “Obviously, like you said, been through a lot of trials and tribulations, a lot of injuries.
“Just looking to live in the moment, man. Enjoy.”
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