The Toronto Raptors have the misfortune of playing in the NBA’s Atlantic Division, which might be the toughest division in the league. The Boston Celtics, led by stars like Jayson Tatum and defensive stalwarts like center Robert Williams, represent the sternest test Toronto will have to face in the division.
Williams, who was being considered as a long-shot trade target for Toronto not that long ago, has become one of the best rim protectors in the entire league. A masterful shot-blocker with the athleticism that would make Nick Nurse blush, Williams is a part of Boston’s long-term core.
The Celtics’ plans for a relatively quiet offseason have been upended in the last few days. Not only is coach Ime Udoka officially suspended for the 2022-23 season, but Boston will have to figure out a way to become a contender without Williams for the first few weeks of the season.
The Celtics announced that Williams is going to miss the next 8-12 weeks as he recovers from knee surgery. This could prevent him from suiting up until the end of December if the worst-case scenario plays out. The Raptors need to take advantage of this in such a crowded division.
The Toronto Raptors could capitalize on the Robert Williams injury.
The Celtics won 51 games in the regular season, but Toronto was right behind them with 48 wins. If Toronto took care of business against a few also-rans like Detroit and Oklahoma City earlier in the season, they may have leapfrogged the eventual champions in the standings.
The biggest issue Toronto faced during their tussles with Boston last year was Williams, as a team that lacked much height in the frontcourt found it tough to get much of anything going against the Texas A&M product.
The Celtics went 28-7 after January 23, a span in which Williams averaged a points-rebounds double-double with 2.3 blocks per game.
Pulling off an unlikely run like that without a healthy Williams and Udoka could be impossible to manifest. The Nets are loaded back up after a crazy offseason, the 76ers still have Joel Embiid ready to go, and the Raptors boast one of the strongest starting lineups in the league. Even the Knicks are better.
The Raptors shouldn’t be considered a better team than the Celtics right now, but they capitalize on a player like Williams being on the shelf for the first few months of the season. With the lynchpin of the defense on the mend, Pascal Siakam might have more breathing room against the Celtics.