This stat is going to hurt. Seriously, shield your eyes.
Kemba Walker, who the Boston Celtics signed as a prized free agent this past offseason to produce in big moments alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, had more combined fouls (four) and turnovers (three) than points (five) in 52 minutes in a 125-122 double overtime loss in Game 6 to the Toronto Raptors Wednesday night.
Walker’s dismal offensive performance, in which he shot a mere 2-of-11 from the floor, played a role in preventing the Celtics from closing out the Raptors and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. And to Walker’s credit, he didn’t shy away or make excuses from failing to meet the high expectations set for the All-Star guard.
“The second half, I just really couldn’t find the rhythm,” Walker said. “I thought I had a few good looks, but it just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to help my teammates out. Just a bad offensive night. Terrible offensive night.”
Toronto has also gone above and beyond to make sure it locks in defensively on Walker. For much of the first half in Game 6, the Raptors deployed a box-and-one defense on Walker and it certainly took Walker out of his offensive comfort zone.
Walker attempted just three shots over the first 24 minutes — Walker chastised himself for taking only nine shot attempts after a loss in Game 4 — but Celtics coach Brad Stevens said that Walker’s passive approach on the offensive end was in response to what the Raptors did defensively.
“The first half, that’s not really fair to Kemba because they’re in a box-and-one on him, playing on top of him and we are getting great shots against it,” Stevens said. “At that point in time, his job is to either be a spacer or a cutter or a screener and watch everybody else score and then when they get out of it then he gets better opportunities himself. That’s not on Kemba or anything about his three attempts in the first half. It’s just how they were guarding him. They took him away. It’s a great sign of respect.”
Despite his offensive struggles, the Celtics still leaned on Walker in the game’s most critical moments. Boston gave Walker the ball in the waning seconds of regulation with the game tied, 98-98, and looked for him to make a play.
Walker drove around Fred VanVleet and met OG Anunoby at the rim and appeared to get hit on the arm by Anunoby with three seconds left. But no call came from the officials, leaving even more of a sour taste in Walker’s mouth. And while he didn’t outright blame the referees for missing a crucial call, his short answer to what occurred on the play spoke volumes.
“I just missed a layup, I guess,” Walker said.
Walker will need to turn things around quickly with Game 7 looming on Friday. He’s played in only one other Game 7 in his career, coming with the Charlotte Hornets in 2016 and it wouldn’t be a surprise if that experience still haunts him. Walker shot a putrid 3-of-16 from the field for just nine points as the Hornets lost by 33 to the Miami Heat.
The Celtics need the version of Walker they envisioned last summer when they sought after him for Game 7, and that isn’t lost on Walker in what could very well be the biggest game of his NBA career up to this point.
“I got to find a way to help my teammates more,” Walker said. “I got to be better for my teammates. Look at the film and just get better. That’s all we can do.”