Kemba's Cooking Amid Limited Minutes Inside Bubble

BOSTON – A minute restriction is about the only thing that’s slowing down Kemba Walker inside the NBA’s bubble.

Simply put, the man is cooking.

Walker, whose minutes are incrementally increasing each game as the team cautiously treats his left knee, remained hot at the offensive end Tuesday night by dropping 15 points on the Miami Heat during just 26-plus minutes of action. He has now scored 45 points during less than 68 minutes of playing time through three games, all while shooting a blistering 58.3 percent from the field and 60.0 percent from 3-point range.

Just imagine the type of numbers he’d have provided to the team had he been allowed to play 30-plus minutes during each of those games. Here’s a hint, based off of a per-36-minute rate: 23.9 points and 4.2 assists per game behind the type of shooting that makes opposing defenses quiver. In other words, game-changing numbers.

The Celtics will need to wait a couple more games before their point guard can be fully unleashed from his restriction, but during the interim, they are excited about what they’re seeing. After all, it was just a few weeks ago that Walker wasn’t even allowed to participate in practice with the team while he concentrated on strengthening his knee.

Fast-forward to the team’s first three seeding games, and Walker has looked like he’s in mid-season form. Well, with the exception of those minutes.

Walker logged 19 minutes during Boston’s first game, 22 minutes during its second game, and 26-plus minutes Tuesday night. He will not play on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday for precautionary reasons, but come Friday night’s matchup with Toronto, he will likely approach or surpass 30 minutes of action.

Most promising about Tuesday’s appearance was that Walker was finally able to participate in the fourth quarter of a game. His first two appearances were cut short by the minute restriction during the third quarter. Tuesday night, however, he was able to play crunch-time minutes against Miami.

Walker played the final five-plus minutes of the game and provided the C’s with six points during that time frame. His final bucket, a 3-pointer from the left wing with 13.0 seconds left on the clock, gave Boston a fighting chance at winning the game, although Brad Stevens said that wasn’t necessarily the plan.

“It’s important,” Brad Stevens said of having Walker on the court to close the game. “I wasn’t planning on doing that, but obviously when (Marcus) Smart fouled out I didn’t have much choice … He’s got to get as many reps as he can in that. Obviously, those are good things.”

Good things both for Walker and for the team.

For Walker personally, logging crunch-time action – when team and individual execution is at a premium – is important experience. The prospect of heading into the postseason without any such experience in the bubble would have been a worrisome proposition. But worry no more.

For the Celtics as a team, they were reminded how much more dangerous their offense is during crunch time when a player like Walker is on the floor. He is a game-changing presence, one which can bail the C’s out of bad possessions, or stress a defense even more alongside Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward, or some combination of the two.

The bottom line here is that Walker is red hot, he’s healthy, and his minutes are on the up-and-up. Boston will become much more dangerous when he is unleashed without any restriction.

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