After Lengthy Battle with the Flu, Kemba is Back To Being Kemba

MILWAUKEE – Kemba Walker looked like himself Thursday night for the first time since missing the opening week of 2020 with an illness.

Walker exploded for 40 points during a narrow defeat to the Bucks, marking his highest scoring output since notching a season-high 44 back on Dec. 9 against Cleveland.

During the first half, while the Celtics were taking on water as a team, Walker was the only player who kept them afloat. His 24 points kept Boston within striking distance after it fell behind by as many as 27 points during the opening half.

“(He was the) only reason we had a chance,” Brad Stevens said after the game. “He just willed himself to baskets.”

He also willed the Celtics back into the game during the second half as he continued to pour it onto the league’s top-ranked defense. Walker’s scoring played a significant role in Boston cutting Milwaukee’s lead down to four points during the final minute to give the C’s a real shot at a win.

The fact that Boston’s comeback bid came up short undoubtedly steals some luster away from Walker’s performance. Still, everyone who is associated with or roots for the team must be excited to have seen the Kemba Walker they’ve all come to know return to action Thursday night. If we’re being honest, it had been a while, and his illness had everything to do with that fact.

Walker does not like to miss games. In fact, he missed only four during the previous four seasons combined.

The illness he fought at the start of January forced him to miss three games, which underlines just how draining it really was.

“I had the flu,” he said Thursday night. “It really just took a lot out of me.”

And then, Walker added, “It still has.”

That comment confirms what many observed during Walker’s first five games back: he just didn’t look like himself. The three-time All-Star scored just six points on six shot attempts during his first game back, and he surpassed 20 points only once during his first five games back. For reference, Walker is averaging 22.1 points per game this season.

The point guard said Thursday night that he lost “a few” pounds while fighting the illness. He then joked, “I’m already a little guy, so I can’t lose too much.”

Finally, Walker said, he is gaining that weight back, and with that, he’s finally beginning to look and feel like himself again.

After missing his first four shots of Thursday's game, Walker went on to connect on 14 of his final 19 attempts while also making eight of his nine free throws. It was the type of performance for which Celtics fans had been waiting, and the type of performance for which Walker had been yearning.

“Me, personally, I needed a good offensive game,” he admitted.

Now he’s got one in the bag, which he hopes will set him up for a nice run over the next month before the All-Star break arrives Feb. 14.

“Hopefully I can keep building off of it as I start to feel like myself again, as much as I can,” he said.

He sure looked like himself Thursday night. He got everywhere he wanted to on the court when the ball was in his hands. He shot the ball in rhythm from all over the floor. He even attacked the glass for a season-best and team-best 11 rebounds, marking just the 10th instance in his nine-year career that he has reached double-digits in that category.

Stevens summed the performance up in just a handful of words: “He was awfully special tonight.”

In other words, Kemba is back to being Kemba.

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