The usually jovial Kemba Walker seemed more measured and demure in his post-game presser Friday night. With a mask covering his 1000-watt smile and a Yankees cap tucked low, his answers were succinct and to the point.
You wouldn’t know that he had arguably his best game since his comeback started fourteen games ago. Against Trae Young and the Hawks, Walker put up an efficient 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting (5-for-8 from behind the arc) with six assists and three steals.
The four-time All-Star has been pain-free since receiving a stem cell injection in his knee after the playoffs, but at times, his game has been painful to watch. He’s averaging just 17.2 points on 38.4% shooting and 4.1 assists per game, nearly career-lows since his rookie season.
After sitting the first game of the two-game series against Atlanta (because it was the back end of a back-to-back with Denver), Walker looked fresh, fast, and bouncy after two days off.
“Kemba’s been really good. We’ve struggled through this stretch. And there’s been a lot of angst, a lot of talk, but in three of the last four games that Kemba’s played, we’ve won and in all four games, he’s played pretty darn well,” Brad Stevens said of his point guard.
“You can tell he’s really coming. So, that’s a real positive for our team. He was by far our best player in Washington and then he was good against Denver. I thought he was terrific tonight and took on the challenge of chasing (Trae) Young all over the place, too.”
What’s been troubling in Kemba’s return is not necessarily his shot--good shooters will always be good shooters--but it’s the lack of burst and finishing around the rim that’s most concerning. But against the Hawks, he consistently attacked the rim and completed three and-1’s.
Cardiac Kemba, our @Gatorade Player of the Game, was on full display tonight! pic.twitter.com/vhklaFG3Il— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 20, 2021
“I was just trying to make the right plays. That’s it. Just moving the basketball when I can. Taking my opportunity when I can,” Walker said after the Hawks started double teaming him after he caught fire. “That’s really it: taking whatever the defense gives me honestly.”
Over his last four games, Walker has started to look more like himself. In thirty-one minutes per game, he’s averaging 22.8 points on 49.2% shooting and made 17 of his 31 threes. But as he rounds into form, his health and more importantly, his health come the playoffs, is the #1 priority.
When asked about potentially playing more minutes and in back-to-back games (the Celtics have one more in next week’s three-game road trip), Walker laughed it off and seemed resigned to the training staff’s plan.
“It is what it is,” Walker said and laughed. “To be honest, they’re just not going to let me play. It really don’t even matter, to be honest, even if I wanted to play. Come on now. Everybody knows I want to play.”