Following a 4-for-20 dud in Phoenix, Kemba Walker looked to bounce back in the final game of the road trip in Utah. Against the Suns, he was visibly agitated and let his shooting struggles get the best of him:
For a player usually all smiles, the struggles are beginning to show in Walker’s emotions. On the first possession of the second quarter against Phoenix, the referees missed Langston Galloway’s hand grabbing Kemba’s waist as he tried to draw a 3-point foul. There was only silence as the ball never hit the rim. On Boston’s next possession, Damian Jones blocked Walker’s layup after it had already hit the glass. Again, there was no whistle.
If the disappointment of poor play was bubbling to the surface of Kemba’s psyche, the inability to try and remedy those feelings with five points Walker felt he’d earned boiled them over the surface, resulting in a technical foul.
“I let myself get a little bit too frustrated. I just can’t have that,” Walker said after the game. “Like I always say, these guys, they look to me to be that positive energy. I wasn’t that today. But it was pretty frustrating, but at the end of the day, if it’s not a call, it’s not a foul. And I’ve got to realize that.”
Those fortunes didn’t change in the Celtics finale of a five-game road trip out west against the league-leading Jazz. Walker was just 2-for-12 from the field, but did tally seven assists with no turnovers in the 122-108 in Utah.
It’s Walker’s tenth game back since receiving a stem cell injection in his left knee and while he’s looked as quick and bouncy as ever, his shot just isn’t falling and the All-Star isn’t putting pressure on opposing defenses. His free throw attempts and assists are at an all-time low for the nine-year pro.
"He's a huge part of us if we're going to be what we want to be... and I really, really believe he'll be that guy." - Brad Stevens on Kemba Walker pic.twitter.com/tU6CkkJJve— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 10, 2021
However, Walker’s slow start hasn’t dented Brad Stevens’ confidence in him. “We didn’t start the year with Kemba’s necessarily set of actions in. We’ve added those over the last month. But I think we need to look at ways to do a better job as a staff of helping him,” he said.
“We’ll keep going. He struggled to shoot it over the last two games, but he’s doing a lot of other things. He’s a huge part of us if we’re going to be what we want to be, and I really really believe that he will be that guy.”
Walker has had good games in his return. He had a vintage performance in Los Angeles that contributed to a big win vs. the Clippers and he was solid in the two-game mini-series in Philly. Unfortunately, he’s laid eggs in winnable games against good teams (Lakers, Suns, and Jazz) and the team is 3-7 overall when he’s played.
Where's your panic meter at about Kemba Walker's performances recently?— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 10, 2021
The crew discusses on Celtics Pregame Live pic.twitter.com/TjoDAqFqYx
There is reason for hope. The Celtics return home for five games in TD Garden (with a rescheduled trip to the Capitol this Sunday to play the Wizards in the middle). There are unfortunately two back-to-back sets that bookend the homestand where he’ll most likely sit one of the games.
Last season, Walker started out slow as well. Through seventeen games in October and November, his shooting percentage hovered around 40% and it was until December and January that he really found his stride, raising his FG% to around 46% in twenty-five games.
And as far as we know, Kemba hasn’t made issue of his knee over the last two months. His minutes have steadily climbed to the low-30’s and he doesn’t appear gun shy at all, taking his customary 15-20 shots a night. Regardless of what you call it--rust, a slump, or the yips--rest assured that Walker is working through it.