SAN FRANCISCO—It is said that Father Time is undefeated.
So it’s no surprise that the Time Lord was indomitable in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
No, age doesn’t appear to be the veteran Warriors’ top adversary in this championship round. Instead, it’s Boston center Robert Williams.
The 6-foot-9 Texas A&M product with a 7-foot-6 wingspan picked up the peculiar nickname because in 2018, he was late for both his post-draft media call and his subsequent flight to Boston.
But now, the nickname has lost its irony. Williams covers ground like Draymond Green and has the length and near-impeccable defensive timing to affect shots all over the court.
There are a dozen ways in which the Warriors can play better and win Game 2 Sunday, pulling even in the series after their stunning 120-108 loss Thursday night at Chase Center.
But I don’t see a way where they neutralize Williams, and that will give Boston the upper hand on defense for as many games as this series goes.
There are plenty of rim protectors remaining in the NBA, but not one of them carries anything close to Williams’ impact.
The Warriors felt, firsthand, that Williams was a different kind of rim protector in March. He had a block on Jordan Poole in that game that became permanently etched into my memory. When I asked a few Warriors players about it this week, every one of them remembered it perfectly, too.
After all, it’s not normal for a center to come from the wing to the hoop as fast as Williams did, swatting the ball into next season in the process.
Yes, the Warriors knew all about Williams going into this series.
And there was that impact, on full display, in Game 1 on Thursday night.
This is Robert Williams in the March Celtics win and tonight in Game 1.
Dude is deep in the Warriors’ heads, as well he should be. A brilliant defensive player. pic.twitter.com/SQkVpjH9Tt
— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dieter) June 3, 2022
It started when Williams, running with Andrew Wiggins down the floor on a first-quarter transition opportunity, bumped the Warriors wing at least six feet off his line and blocked his shot out of bounds.
No one moves Wiggins like that.
No one except Williams, that is.
Then he didn’t just block a Poole layup in the second quarter — he wedged it between the basket and the backboard, stopping the game.
He finished his stellar night with a block of Curry on the perimeter. The Celtics decided to stop running drop coverage on Curry, and Williams proved adroit at defending on the perimeter.
The Celtics are a sound, physical defensive team with solid rim protection without Williams.
With Williams, the Boston defense goes to an entirely different level. They Celtics aren’t just the best defense in the NBA this year with him on the court — they’re the best the league has seen in years.
In the regular season, teams shot 17 percent worse from 6 feet and in when Williams was on the floor, and nearly 20 percent worse from inside of 10 feet.
In Game 1, the Warriors went 13-for-29 in the paint. That’s a brutal percentage. And countless more attempts were passed up merely because Williams was on the floor.
Rudy Gobert wishes he had this kind of impact.
The Warriors have a reputation as a “jump-shooting” team, but the truth is that Golden State’s offense is just as much about inside shots as the outside ones.
We saw this in the Warriors’ four wins in the Western Conference Finals—Golden State penetrated with impunity against Dallas.
If that’s not going to be the case against Boston — and outside of Williams’ balky knee keeping him out of games, it’s difficult to foresee a circumstance where that changes — then the Warriors need to shoot at least 40 percent from beyond the three-point line every night.
That’s a tall order. Actually, it’s more of a long order.