There’s no doubt that Jayson Tatum’s fourth-quarter explosion was the driving force behind the Boston Celtics’ win in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Robert Williams’ return to being a starter was a close second, however.
Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla made the decision to replace Derrick White with Williams in the starting lineup, opting to return to the double-big unit that led the Celtics to the 2022 NBA Finals in an effort to stop NBA MVP Joel Embiid and the Sixers. The return (obviously) had great success in the box score, but was also a way of building Boston’s confidence on the defensive end.
“(It allowed) everybody to follow the game plan as we needed too,” Al Horford said Saturday, per NBC Sports Boston. “More importantly, Rob’s ability to cover out there and to make plays — I feel like we all had that sense of urgency. He’s a great defender and that just helps us so much.”
Williams had a modest night in the scorers sheet, recording 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes, but had a profound impact on the matchup game.
The 76ers were forced to adjust with Williams in the lineup, as his minutes often lined up with those of P.J. Tucker. That allowed the Celtics to play him in the “center field role” while leaving Tucker in the corner to shoot a poor 2-for-7 from beyond the arc. Philadelphia would counter with Georges Niang, which just allowed Boston to match those minutes to White’s off the bench.
In total, Williams and White combined to total 19 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in 47 minutes, finishing as a plus-11 in their time on the court. Tucker and Niang? Well, they had 14 total points on 11 shots and finished as a minus-9.
If the Celtics can carry that success over, they could be looking at a second-consecutive date with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.