Less than twenty-four hours after being voted into the All-Star Game as a starting guard, Kemba Walker was tasked with leading his injury-riddled team past the Orlando Magic. A theme for Kemba this year has been his willingness to defer the ball to his teammates allowing them to shine, something he was unable to do during his time in Charlotte and a theme that would not be continuing on this night.
With both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown sitting this one out, Kemba was relied upon to display his All-Star talents and be the focal point of the Celtics offense. Happily he obliged, dropping 37 points, 6 dimes, 2 boards, and 4 strips. Cardiac Kemba had arrived full of confidence and ready for battle.
Last year, Kemba was one of the most prolific scorers in a pick-and-roll predicated offense with 46.8 percent of his plays coming as a ball handler per Synergy. His speed and ability to hit shots with the slightest slither of daylight makes him one of the toughest covers in the league. Celtics fans have been gifted glimpses of this ability throughout the first half of the season, but against Orlando, they saw it in full effect.
During the first quarter, all three of Kemba’s makes came courtesy of the pick-and-roll offense. Twice he drove towards the nail to drain a pull-up and once he fired from deep with the defense not closing out quick enough.
His first assist of the quarter was also predicated on high screen offense, with Kemba obtaining the ball from a dribble hand off with Gordon Hayward and hitting Daniel Theis on a slip screen.
The PnR allows Kemba to attack the defense using his primary skills of ball handling and shot making. More importantly though, it opens up other opportunities as the game progresses. By optimizing his offense off screens, teams are forced to trap or ice in order to nullify his impact. When this happens it opens up lanes for his teammates to attack, leading to easy buckets coming from the weak side or on the perimeter.
If defenses fail to react accordingly, then Kemba can go to work either driving the lane or firing from deep. This was evidenced in his 7-for-10 outburst in the second quarter, where he attacked from all three scoring levels. Of those seven makes, five came courtesy of pick-and-roll offense.
The pick-and-pop was also run to perfection. It’s a play that Celtics fans should be used to seeing from him by now and one which Boston runs when they are fighting to work their way back into a game. It’s also a great way of punishing a defense for anticipating the drive, forcing them to close out, which then opens up the drive you just punished them for anticipating. Funny how that works.
Quieter in the second half of the game, Kemba only scored another two baskets in total. The damage had been done though, he had torn their defense to shreds in the first half and inspired his team to take the game by the neck. This is what true leaders do. They impact winning and lead by example.
Kemba displayed a maturity in this game which showed just how capable he is of turning games on their head when it’s needed. It’s impressive just how much he sacrifices to allow his younger teammates to shine. Acting as an insurance policy when all else fails, he is able to step up in the moment and will his team to victory, he done it for years in Charlotte and now he does it when he has to in Boston.
Set to make his fourth All-Star appearance next month, there was no better way to make the announcement than a 37-point outing in a game that could easily have had a different outcome if it wasn’t for him. Having him tied down until his age-33 season, there could be a few more appearances at All-Star Weekend in his future.