C’s Hold Off Cavs Behind Kemba’s Model Effort

BOSTON – Kemba Walker’s workday was all but over, as he checked out of Monday night’s matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the 2:52 mark of the third quarter to a 28-point Celtics lead. At least it appeared that way until Cleveland made an unexpected run at the start of the fourth to cut its deficit in half, which resulted in C’s coach Brad Stevens calling for his star point guard’s services one last time.

It wouldn’t have been unusual for a starter to have mentally checked out in such a situation, especially against a struggling team like Cleveland. Walker remained ready just in case, however, and it paid off. He checked back in midway through the fourth quarter and knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers over an 82-second span, enabling the C’s to pull away again, en route to a 110-88 win at TD Garden.

“Regardless of their record they always play extremely hard,” Walker said of the Cavs while discussing his late-game mindset. “So for me, I know why he put me back in. When you’re in those kinds of situations and teams are playing well, trying to make comebacks, I knew why he put me back in. He put me in to close the game out.”

With that objective in mind, Walker, who scored a game-high 22 points, made quick work of it. He knocked down three triples from the 4:54 mark of the fourth quarter to the 3:32 mark, as he singlehandedly turned a 94-81 lead into a 103-83 advantage.

Stevens was so impressed by Walker’s preparation in that moment that he made it into a major talking point of his post-game discussion in the C's locker room.

“I just told the team afterwards, if you want to be special, then model after Kemba,” the coach recounted. “Because Kemba sits over there, thinks his night is done, gets put back in the game, drills three 3s and ends it.

“I mean, special is not for everybody, but that's just different,” he added. “That's just always ready, always wanting to be called upon, always loving the play. He's not untying his shoes; he's staying ready because he knows this game can change in a heartbeat.”

The Celtics took Stevens’ remarks to heart, acknowledging the role model that Walker was in that situation among many others.

“He set a great example,” said Jayson Tatum, who logged a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds. “That’s what he’s done in this league for a very, very long time, and that’s why he’s one of the best players in the league.”

Though, even the best players can become disconnected during a game that appears to be heading toward a blowout.

“It’s possible,” Walker agreed. “But at the end of the day, you have to stay engaged throughout the whole game. You just never know. In this league, 20-point leads go so fast and teams can score in bunches really fast, regardless of the score. So, you just have to stay engaged.”

By remaining engaged Monday night, Walker was able to come in when his team needed him and help put away a dogged opponent. Not only did he get the job done, but he also set a great example for his teammates to always stay ready to compete, even when the workday appears to be over.

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