Before the tip off of the Celtics home opener, Kemba Walker addressed a sold out TD Garden, promising the fans that the team would “work hard all year, go hard all year.” It was the kind of all-for-one, one-for-all attitude that he and his teammates have been cultivating since Team Shamrock got together for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup and then later in training camp.
However, on an individual basis, Walker has had a tough start to the season. Through the first six quarters of his Celtics career, Kemba was a miserable 5-for-27 in Philadelphia and against the Raptors in the first half.
With the Celtics down 5 with 8:45 left in the fourth quarter, Walker sacrificed his body and drew a charge on a driving Fred VanVleet. He had already started cooking in the third, but that forced turnover seemed to turn the tide for the entire team. He then scored nine of Boston’s next eleven points.
After the game, the 29-year-old who signed a max contract with the Celtics could not have been more deferential to the rest of the team. “I can’t say enough about the people around me. The coaching staff, most importantly, my teammates, keeping me confident,” Walker said. :They kept talking to me throughout the game. They knew I wanted to play well. They knew I wanted to make shots. I was struggling. I can’t say enough about it. They kept me confident.”
The set that seemed to set Walker off was an elevated version of horns.
The premise is simple: free up a point guard with two screen options, giving him a rim runner and floor spacer to work with. Here, it’s Marcus Smart and Robert Williams. Walker dances around Timelord a few times before getting to his sweet spot above the break.
Next, it’s the bigger Gordon Hayward setting the first pick and Williams wiping out the trailing VanVleet. With his defender on his back, Walker hits the pull up three.
Same play again, but because of Walker’s previous make, Serge Ibaka decides to switch. Walker drives right by for the lay up. He also could have hit the wide open Hayward on the pop behind the arc.
VanVleet thinks he’s wising up to Walker’s plan and shades over to cut off the pick. Walker, who was the league’s most prolific pick-and-roll point guard last season, adjusts and engages the slower OG Anunoby and hits him with the hesi. Again, Brown is an option alone at the top of the arc.
When Walker is hitting shots like he was in the second half against Toronto, it opens up his entire game. He draws former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol in the Raptors' drop down PnR coverage and calmly drops a bounce pass to the rolling Grant Williams.
After scoring seven straight points in crunch time, Walker thought to himself, “oh my goodness. I was so happy. Like, ‘about time.’” It was a sigh of relief for a player who has said all the right things since coming to Boston, but just hasn’t had that breakthrough moment yet. On Friday night, that seal was broken.