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Celtics ‘lean on’ Kemba Walker in crunch time

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When the situation got tougher against the Mavericks, the Celtics turned right to Kemba Walker.

Dallas Mavericks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

For the Boston Celtics, there was no confusion on what they would do when the Dallas Mavericks chipped away at a double-digit deficit and pulled ahead midway through the fourth quarter.

In a situation like that where there is little room for error, the C’s didn’t hesitate in turning toward star guard Kemba Walker.

Walker responded to the challenge, delivering sensational play during the game’s most critical juncture. Walker played only 3:39 in the fourth quarter, but made every second count, scoring 10 points in that span to engineer a game-altering 17-3 run and propel the Celtics to their eighth straight win.

Walker has earned the trust of his new teammates in circumstances like those because the 6-foot point guard has a penchant of rising to another level in the second half, as he did again against the Mavs. Walker netted 24 of his team-high 29 points over the final 24 minutes and finished 8-of-14 from beyond the arc, just one 3-pointer shy of tying the Celtics franchise mark for made 3-pointers in a single game.

“I think that was a great moment probably for him — a big game,” said Jaylen Brown. “For him to just take over the game in the fourth quarter like that is what we want to see. We lean on him in those moments.”

After heating up after halftime with a 14-point third quarter, Walker sat out nearly half of the final frame, but when he entered back into the game with 6:21 left, he was the go-to guy.

Walker drained three straight 3-pointers, doing it in a variety of ways from all across the arc to put the dagger into the Mavericks. A straightaway Walker trey gave the C’s the lead for good with 5:22 remaining and then Walker unleashed his wicked crossover against Maxi Kleber, which freed Walker up to stick another long-range shot.

Walker created even more separation and continued to own the fourth quarter for the C’s when he showed off his quick catch-and-release, taking a pass from Marcus Smart and sinking a trifecta from the right wing.

“In the fourth quarter, naturally, the competitive nature just comes out and I’m just trying to do what I can to put the ball in the basket and I was able to hit three in a row,” Walker said.

Walker ended up leaving the game with 2:42 left due to a minor neck injury that Walker called just a “stinger” and Celtics coach Brad Stevens said was a case of “whiplash.”

But the game was already in hand, with the C’s getting their lead back to double digits thanks in large part to Walker. He yet again shrugged off a lackluster first half and came to the rescue when the Celtics needed big buckets down the stretch.

He has a short-term memory to be able to pull that off and that’s a mentality only closers can harness.

“Really just trying to be aggressive. Trying to make the right plays,” said Walker on if he could sense his second-half eruption coming. “I thought I made the right plays on all the shots that I took. I missed a lot earlier, but my shot felt good all night.”