Celtics

Kemba’s Return Nourishes Hungry Celtics

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Kemba Walker made his season debut for the Boston Celtics this past weekend in a blowout loss to the New York Knicks. While his stat line was unimpressive — nine points, four assists and three rebounds — his quickness and burst was there. That was the biggest takeaway from his debut, as he moved like the Kemba of old, not the one we saw in the bubble.

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Walker missed the Celtics’ first 11 games of the season as he was undergoing treatment for his lingering knee injury. He had a stem-cell injection and needed time for the knee strengthening regimen to do its work. The therapy that he and the Celtics chose is called “regokine” therapy. This has been used on NBA players before, as Kobe Bryant and Al Harrington used the treatment in the early 2010’s.

Although it has only been one game, it seems the plan has worked. After the game Walker said, “I’m pain free, which I haven’t been for a very, very long time. It’s kind of a weird feeling. I’ve been hurting for a very long time.”

The Eastern Conference has improved immensely since last season, as the Nets, Bucks and Sixers have all improved their rosters. Meanwhile, the Pacers and Heat are still good squads who will be a tough out come playoff time. This is why Kemba’s health is so important to the Celtics’ postseason chances.

Speed And Quickness Is There

Even though Walker’s postseason numbers were fine, averaging 19.6 points and 5.1 assists per game, you could tell that he was struggling to move. As an undersized guard, so much of his game is about speed and quick changes of direction. After watching the Knicks game, that burst of speed is there.

Walker is one of the best pick-and-roll ball handlers in the league, so seeing him blow by Mitchell Robinson so effortlessly is a great sign. This is what the Celtics have lacked with him out of the lineup as no other point guard on the roster has that type of speed to put pressure on the defense.

In the second clip he show’s off his change of direction and is able to blow by Immauel Quickley. It was also nice to see him initiate contact with Nerlens Noel and plant hard on that knee before getting the bucket.

Gets Rid Of The Two-Big Lineup

While Walker was out, Brad Stevens decided to roll with some size in the starting lineup as opposed to inserting Jeff Teague with the starters. In seven games, the starting lineup of Smart-Brown-Tatum-Theis-Thompson has posted a Net rating of -13.2. While the idea is that it would add physicality and be a good defensive lineup, it is quite the opposite. The lineup posts a defensive rating of 119.3. The defense suffers as it forces one of Theis or Thompson to cover on the perimeter which isn’t their strength.

Meanwhile, offensively, Theis is relegated to being a spot-up shooter. This allows defenses to help off of him, as he isn’t a serious threat to kill teams from deep.

Inserting Walker into the starting lineup allows the Celtics to spread the floor and have four players who can shoot from the perimeter. This allows guys like Kemba and Jaylen to drive to the rim while allowing Thompson more room to operate for offensive rebounds.

Allows Smart To Go Back To Being Smart

Smart has been tasked with more offensive responsibility with Walker out. He is used to being more of a sixth man who can come in and put pressure on the ball defensively and be a spark plug offensively. While he is an underrated playmaker, Smart has been overthinking a little bit on offense.

Both the Celtics and Smart are at their best when he is being a menace defensively. Taking some offensive responsibility away will enable him to get back to his roots. This is important, as Boston will need his strength and tenacity to compete with the loaded backcourts in the east.

Gives The Celtics Firepower To Compete With The Best

The Celtics know that if they wish to reach the NBA Finals, they are going to have to go through Milwaukee and Brooklyn. With the Nets pulling off a blockbuster trade for James Harden, teams aren’t just going to beat the Nets with their defense. As we saw on Christmas Day, when the Nets are cooking, you need to be able to answer. Adding a third elite scorer to go along with Tatum and Brown gives the Celtics a chance to go shot for shot with Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the Bucks also possess a potent offense. They currently own the league’s best offense, posting a 117.7 offensive rating. This means that you are also going to need to put up points to beat them as well. Kemba is also Boston’s best scorer against Milwaukee as he feasts against their drop coverage. In two of their three matchups last season, Kemba put up 30+ points, including a 40-point bomb.

With the leaps that both Tatum and Brown have taken this season, the Celtics have a legitimate chance to win the Eastern Conference. Adding a healthy Walker to this team will only help separate themselves from the east’s second tier. Stars win in the playoffs, and now the Celtics have three of them.

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About Mason Urban

Sports writer for The Spectrum newspaper and contributor for The Lead Sports Media

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