Kemba Walker Shines Bright Again as Celtics Soar Past Hawks
It took Kemba Walker a couple of weeks to shake off the rust after returning from offseason knee surgery, but now Boston’s veteran point guard is shining bright again.
Walker has been building up steam over his past four games, averaging 22.8 points per contest while leading the Celtics to three wins during that span. And in his latest outing on Friday night, he turned into a locomotive, pouring in a season-high 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field to help conduct the Celtics to a 121-109 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
“Kemba’s been really good,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Walker’s recent rise. “We struggled through this stretch, and there’s been a lot of angst and a lot of talk, but in three of the last four games Kemba’s played, we’ve won, and in all four games, he’s played pretty darn well.”
During those four games, he logged 21 points, 25 points, 17 points, and 28 points, respectively. During his previous 10 games, he had reached the 20-point mark just twice.
“You can tell he’s really coming,” Stevens said. “So that’s a real positive for our team. He was by far our best player in Washington (the 25-point game) and then he was good against Denver (the 17-piece), and then I thought he was terrific tonight. He took on a challenge of chasing (Trae) Young all over the place, too.”
During his first couple of weeks back, Walker showed some signs of hesitation, particularly in close to the basket. He claimed that there wasn’t any physical barrier preventing him from being himself, but more of a mental barrier as he learned to trust his knee again in certain situations. As a result, he was missing shots that he normally would have no trouble making.
Lately, however, he’s been more aggressive in his attack and it’s shown in his efficiency. Over his last four games, he’s shot 49.2 percent from the field after shooting just 34.2 percent through his first 10.
“I feel really good,” Walker said while surely smiling behind his mask during his post-game press conference. “I’m having fun, just getting stronger every day.”
One factor that’s allowing Walker to regain his strength is by sitting out during the second games of back-to-backs, which he has done four times now. It’s interesting to note that his three highest-scoring games of the season have each come directly after taking a rest day.
“It's helping me a lot,” Walker said of his strengthening program. “Just really staying on top of things, just keeping up my work, that's really it. It’s just helping me get stronger and stronger, so I do have to continue to attack it.”
In remaining persistent and not allowing his slow start to faze him, Walker has begun to look just like his old self again. And none of his teammates are surprised.
"You can tell he's coming along each and every game,” said Jayson Tatum. “He just feels, seems, and looks like just a lot more like himself. And that's what we all expected.”