Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla made one simple adjustment heading into Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers. It paid off, and that’s why he’s sticking with it.

The adjustment in question was to insert big man Robert Williams III into the starting lineup and increase his overall minutes in key situations. Though Williams III was certainly far from the biggest or only reason the C’s came back and won Games 6 & 7, it clearly made a difference in those final two games.

And Mazzulla is hoping it will continue to make a difference in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.

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  • Mazzulla confirmed to reporters on Tuesday that Williams III will continue to start in Game 1 against Miami on Wednesday night at TD Garden. After averaging 20.7 minutes over the Celtics’ first 11 playoff games, Williams III was upped to 29 minutes per game in Games 6-7, and averaged eight points on 53.8 percent shooting, seven rebounds, and a blocked shot.

    Williams’ athleticism in the paint at both ends of the floor, and rare ability to defend the perimeter for a big, became key factors in the Celtics getting the best of the Sixers at the end of the last series. He and Al Horford will continue to be key, especially on defense, against the Heat.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 14: Robert Williams III #44 of the Boston Celtics shoots the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second quarter in game seven of the 2023 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Garden on May 14, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

  • On the other side for Miami are Bam Adebayo, one of the more dynamic offensive bigs in the NBA, and veteran sharpshooting center Kevin Love. Adebayo averaged 18.7 points while shooting 52.9 percent, along with 9.7 rebounds, in the Heat’s six-game series against the New York Knicks.

    Making life hard for Adebayo around the rim is going to be imperative, and will certainly be tasked to Horford and Williams III. However, if the Celtics wanted to try a different wrinkle, Jayson Tatum may have the athleticism and length to hold his own defending Adebayo, provided he digs in at that end.

    Love, meanwhile, will be more of a matchup beyond the three-point line. He’s been feast-or-famine from three in the 2023 playoffs, and 33.9 percent overall. So, Miami is left wondering which version of Love they will get.

  • As long as the Celtics contest as many shots as possible for Love, and limit Adebayo’s space around the rim, they’ll put themselves in position to succeed on defense. It comes down to effort and commitment at that end.

    Mazzulla hasn’t been consistent on that, but the fact that he’s sticking with Williams III is a sign that he is committing to defense to start the Heat series.

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    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.

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