DENVER – The thin air of Denver became even more challenging to breathe Friday night when Celtics star Kemba Walker collapsed to the Pepsi Center floor and was eventually carted off on a stretcher.
Walker collapsed to the floor at the 3:18 mark of the second quarter, after he inadvertently ran into the midsection of teammate Semi Ojeleye with the crown of his head. Walker immediately fell into the fetal position and was treated by medical personnel after the Celtics called for a timeout.
More than eight minutes later, he was wheeled off of the court in a stretcher, with his body stabilized from head to toe.
“It’s tough on both teams to see that,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after the game, which Boston lost 96-92. “It was good to get at least early reports of good news from our standpoint. But the head injury thing is super scary, so you’re always thinking about it.”
Those early reports are that Walker suffered concussion-like symptoms. Stevens said that all of the tests Walker underwent inside the arena yielded “good” results. Walker was then taken to the hospital for further evaluation, and was released overnight and cleared to travel Sunday morning back to Boston with the team.
“I saw him in the ambulance at halftime that took him to the hospital,” said Stevens, “and he had his wherewithal and he was in pretty decent spirits, which was good, obviously.��
Stevens also visited Walker at the hospital following the game.
Walker’s high spirits at halftime were quite a turn from when he was on the Pepsi Center floor just minutes prior. At that time, he was surrounded by all of his teammates and coaches, and Stevens described the point guard as being “out of it.”
“He wasn’t himself,” the coach added.
Nor were the Celtics as a team Friday night, at least until they received the positive news about Walker’s diagnosis.
Boston trailed by 11 points at halftime and fell behind by as many as 19 points during the third quarter. Without the services of both Walker and Gordon Hayward, who make up 40 percent of their starting lineup, it appeared that the Celtics were destined to suffer a blowout loss on the final night of their arduous five-game road trip.
Such an occurrence might have been expected a season ago, but this group of Celtics has shown a level of heart and determination that is suggestive of a special team. Those characteristics were given extra fuel after the injury to Walker.
“It’s tough,” Smart said of resuming play after watching Walker’s scary moment unfold, “but we tried to gather it up for him and go out there and give it everything we had for him.”
And it worked.
Boston battled back from 19 points down with less than six minutes remaining in the third quarter to make it a one-point game at the 4:33 mark of the fourth quarter. Many players contributed to the swift comeback, but Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Brad Wanamaker were the standouts.
In the end, the Celtics were unable to finish off their dramatic comeback bid, but their defeat did not leave them deflated. Instead, it left them proud of the way they performed after losing their All-Star point guard in frightening fashion.
“I told the new guys who are showing signs of this – I told them the guys that are holdovers here (from last season), those dudes are warriors,” proclaimed Stevens. “To come back in that game, on the last day of a trip, after seeing Kemba go down, in Denver, against that team? To give us a chance to win? They’re warriors.”
Marcus Smart appreciated the coach’s comments and concurred with his coach’s assessments.
“We had [five] games in [eight] days on the road on the West Coast,” he said. “Everybody’s banged up. Everybody’s bruised. We got down, we coulda quit, but it just shows this team – we kept fighting, and everybody came in and contributed and helped. We just came up short.”
There is nothing to be ashamed of on that note. In fact, there’s only evidence of which to be proud.
The Boston Celtics watched their All-Star point guard – and one of their true leaders – go down with what could have been a career-threatening injury. Rather than folding, they battled through the adversity and nearly captured an improbable victory against one of the top teams in the league. They surely inspired Walker from afar, just as he inspired them.
As of early Saturday morning, there is no timetable for Walker’s return, but that’s not all too important. What’s important is that he will return nonetheless following a dangerous moment in Denver. Midway through this whirlwind of a game, that was never a sure thing.
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