SAN FRANCISCO — As the Boston Celtics practice neared its conclusion early Friday afternoon at the University of San Francisco, Rob Williams found himself in his natural habitat: Above the rim.

The Celtics center – playing in a 5-on-5 scrimmage with some players and assistant coaches – took a dribble up the court and passed it to Payton Pritchard as they entered the half court. Williams then ran across the court as if he was about to set a screen before taking an arc toward the hoop, where he found himself completely uncovered. Pritchard dribbled into the lane before lobbing it to Williams, who ferociously slammed it with ease with his right hand.

It’s a scene that could play out in a real game soon. Friday marked 11 weeks since he had  left knee surgery to remove loose bodies and address swelling after suffering a torn meniscus in the knee last March, and his return seems to be imminent.

Could he be back this week when the Celtics visit Los Angeles for games against the Clippers and Lakers?

“Day to day,” Williams said. “It’s a possibility of anything. Day to day.”

How about Saturday night’s NBA Finals rematch against the Warriors? Williams responded with a smile.


“Day to day,” Williams repeated. “I think that’s what I said.”

Friday marked the Celtics’ first team practice in at least a month – they finally got an extra off day in between games – and it was another chance for Williams to assess where he is in his recovery. According the Boston’s injury report, his return won’t come against the Warriors. The team wants to see how his knee reacts after Friday’s practice, and he hasn’t done a lot of work with the starters yet. But his progress, which has so far included no setbacks, continued to be encouraging.

“He looked good,” Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla said. “He looked like Rob.”

“It’s a day-to-day process,” Williams added. “We’ve checked off many of the boxes that I had to check off.”

One of the most important boxes to check off, it seems, is Williams’ comfort level. When he resumed some basketball activities more than a month ago, he admitted there was some nervousness about how his knee would react as he started workouts and building up again. He’s wearing a massive brace to protect his knee, which has taken time to adjust to but not as bad as Williams thought.

“The most important thing for Rob is that he’s comfortable where he’s at from a physical conditioning standpoint and a mindset standpoint that he’s comfortable out there and that it’s going to go well for him,” Mazzulla said. “I think the most important thing is where he’s at and how he feels and so he’s continuing to work at it, and when he’s ready, he’s ready.”


There’s a growing excitement about Williams’ return, but it’s not necessarily urgent. The Celtics boast the league’s best record at 21-5 and can afford for Williams to take his time.

“We’re very excited for him, but obviously at the same time, we want him to take his time,” Marcus Smart said. “There’s no rush right now really for him to be back. We’re doing pretty good, and the more rest we can give him and let him get more strength back in the knee and conditioning back up is only going to help us in the long run. We’re excited for him to be day to day, but definitely telling him to take his time and there’s no rush. We’re happy to see him out here, doing the things that he’s doing.”

When Williams does return, it’s likely the Celtics will bring him along slowly. The Celtics will work together to determine what makes sense as the center returns to game action for the first time since June.

NOTES: Two of the league’s most prolific scorers meet on Saturday night with Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Boston’s Jayson Tatum. Curry is fifth in the NBA averaging 30.0 points per game and Tatum is fourth in the league averaging 30.5 points per game. … The Warriors are 11-2 on their home court and lead the league with 29.7 assists per game. … The Celtics are 10-3 on the road and ranks second in the Eastern Conference with 27.1 assists per game.

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