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Kornet vs. Wembanyama, Ol’ Reliable vs. the Rookie of the Year frontrunner

Wemby won the one-on-one battle, but the Celtics won the war with Luke manning the middle.

San Antonio Spurs v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

“Weathering The Storm.”

That was Luke Kornet’s suggestion on a proposed rap group after Jayson Tatum, Oshae Brissett, and Jrue Holiday crashed his walk-off interview with NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin after Boston’s 117-98 win over San Antonio.

“I’d just be the baseline vocals just kind of in the background.”

The big man might be selling his contributions short. With Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick White out against the visiting Spurs, Kornet went head-to-head against Victor Wenbanyama in just his second start of the season.

The box score won’t tell the entire story. The rookie sensation had lead singer numbers: 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting with five rebounds. Kornet finished with 6-9-4, pedestrian stats fit for a fifth Beatle.

And with plays like this — the 7’4 Wembanyama skying over the 7’1 Kornet — it’s easy to see the stark differential between the two.

But it’s not always about those highlight plays.

“Luke was great. He’s another guy that gets better and better,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said after Kornet played thirty minutes at +11 in the blowout.

“Over the last three years, he’s probably one of our best overall defenders. His ability to communicate, change matchups, guard different guys, guard different actions. The him and Al [Horford] minutes were great because those guys defend at a high, high level and they protect the rim. We got off to a good start because of that double big lineup.”

Forcing this turnover won’t exactly make the social media rounds as much as that monster dunk, but it’s a testament to how fundamentally sound Kornet has been as the third string center. Against one of the most hyped young players ever in this league, Kornet held his own.

“Really just staying between him and the basket and making him make shots,” Kornet said. “When you have phenomenal athletes just perusing behind you, you know you got a lot of safety with you.”

For the season, Kornet has played in 27 of the Celtics’ 41 games. The team’s class clown missed eight straight games in December after — wait for it — he injured himself in the layup line ahead of a tilt against the Cavaliers. In his return, he’s averaged just under 18 minutes a game with 6 points, 4 rebounds, and over a block a night. He’s been the epitome of Boston’s Stay Ready group and been instrumental in big wins against the Timberwolves, Pacers, and Raptors, often filling in for Porzingis or Horford as the back-up rim protector.

“That’s something that we know we’ll have to do throughout the season and whoever’s name is called, they’ll have to be able to fill in,” Kornet said. “Derrick [White] was out, so I summoned his abilities and got my first transition back tap steal of my entire life, so that was pretty electrifying.”

Rock on, Luke. Rock on.

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