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Regarding Bill Walker's Flagrant

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Very little went wrong in the Celtics' shellacking of the Nets in their visit to the swamp yesterday.  Having a game virtually wrapped up with a 29-point halftime lead is great.  Taking it to an opponent so badly that the opposing coach benches his two best players for the second half is an added bonus.  Extra time for the young reserves never hurts.  Speaking of those reserves, despite what Jim Spanarkel had to say about it, Bill Walker's flagrant foul wasn't much of a bummer either.

With just outside of four minutes to play and the Celtics leading by 20 points, Walker caught Ryan Anderson up high from the side on a breakaway, knocking the Nets' rookie to the floor.  Walker did wind up with his right arm as he chased Anderson down.  Regardless of what he was going for, he got Anderson on the body, and he was rightfully assessed a flagrant foul.

It was at this point that Spanarkel, a former NBA player who currently does color for Nets telecasts on the YES Network, began editorializing.

I watch the Nets a fair amount on YES, and I've got no issues with Spanarkel in general, nor is this meant as some hatchet job on the work he did yesterday.  His initial comment that the nature of the breakaway put Anderson in a precarious position with no idea where a potential hit might be coming from was fair enough. 

But he then proceeded to call Walker's play a "borderline cheap shot" and then kept on the subject a couple of plays later to make the point that conduct like that wouldn't help Walker make a name for himself on his team or in the league with anyone besides the referees.  All of that seemed a bit over the top.

Walker's play wasn't much to brag about in the sense that it gave the opposition two free throws and the ball, and it could have been a dangerous play.  But it looked a lot more like an unrefined and overzealous youngster trying to do the right thing and screwing up than it did a player taking potshots at opponents in a 20-point game.

Since the beginning of last season, the hallmark of this Celtics team has been its commitment to defense and insistence on making opponents work for nearly every point.  The Celtics play physical basketball, and as per Kevin Garnett's doctrine, they do their darnedest not to allow baskets even when the ball isn't in play.  On several occasions this season, national broadcasters have remarked on Celtic players sprinting back to contest breakaways late in blowout victories, noting that it isn't the sort of thing that happens on just any team at that point in a game. 

One of the quickest ways to get buried on the Celtics' bench or to get in trouble with the veteran leaders is to take a play off defensively, no matter how inconsequential it may seem.  In fact, Bill Walker has gone on record as recently as earlier this week talking about how important it is to him to work at improving his defense.  All that in mind, what I saw yesterday was a young Celtic who wanted to do everything in his power to avoid giving up an uncontested basket for the opposition.  I saw a player with a great set of raw tools but still in need of an understanding of how to refine his natural ability into sound play.  The swing he took might just as well have been aimed at the ball Anderson was extending toward the basket rather than the forward's upper body. 

It was a clumsy play by Bill Walker.  That sort of thing happens when a player leaves college perhaps a bit earlier than he should and has only been in the pros for two and a half months.  He'll need to learn that winding up and heaving his arm toward the shooter isn't the proper way to go about stopping that player.  But it looked like a play born far more out of Bill Walker's desire to make an effort defensively than any desire to lay a cheap shot on an unsuspecting opponent.  For a rookie in the fourth quarter of a 20-point game, I'll take that over effort over allowing an easy bucket any time.

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