BOSTON — Less than 40 hours after being stretchered off the court in Denver with what appeared to be a serious neck injury, Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker went through cardio and weight work at the team’s practice facility with the possibility that he could play in Monday’s game against the Sacramento Kings.
The team listed Walker as doubtful earlier Sunday and Celtics coach Brad Stevens stressed it was the right designation but that there’s even the possibility of Walker playing is mind-blowing considering Friday’s scene.
"He didn’t practice so he went through a number of progressions upstairs on the bike and in the weight room. We’re just really lucky it didn’t end up being near as bad as any of us thought,” said Stevens.
Asked if there was any chance Walker could play on Monday, Stevens said, "Yeah. But I’d say doubtful. I think doubtful’s appropriate.”
Walker collapsed to the floor in Denver on Friday night after running into teammate Semi Ojeleye with his head down. Teammates said Walker’s disoriented nature on the court was particularly worrisome and medical personnel immobilized him before he was stretchered off the court.
Initially, the team announced Walker was being evaluated for concussion-like symptoms but examinations by doctors in Denver on Friday, and then in Boston on Saturday, suggested he only had the neck strain.
“Obviously, they went through a series of things with the Denver doctors and a series of things when he got back [Saturday] with our doctors. And so he is continuing to be monitored in case any of that stuff shows up,” said Stevens. "But he’s been good and he feels good. It’s kind of a minor miracle based on what we saw the other day. But the strain is real and he’s got some soreness in his back and neck. That’s it.”
Celtics teammate Jaylen Brown had a similarly scary incident in March 2018 when he slipped off the rim and crashed hard on his upper back. Brown missed six games and nearly three weeks of action while recovering and said he simply hoped Walker returned when he’s ready.
"We’re glad that it wasn’t what it could have been, anything serious,” said Brown. On the possibility of Walker playing he added, "I think that’s Kemba’s call. There’s no rush for him to get back. If he’s feeling good, of course, but sometimes things like that you need to take a breath, take a break, until he’s ready to go back into it. But it’s completely up to him, for sure. If I was him, I would take a day away and then come back."
Stevens admitted there were some tense moments when Walker first went down clutching his neck in Denver.
“My No. 1 thing was, is he moving? I actually had a kid at Butler who went in headfirst into the stanchion my last year and very temporarily lost movement,” said Stevens. "And that was the scariest thing I had ever been through. So that was my first thought. And then I saw him moving a little bit but he was clearly, like, balled up. So I didn’t get a chance to talk to him in that moment.
"When they put him on the stretcher I don’t know if he was in shock or what the deal was. But a couple minutes later, 10, 15 minutes later in the ambulance, he looked totally different. But it’s scary. It’s always scary. The head injuries, the neck injuries are scary. And that’s the reason he’s doubtful, to be honest. I think he could probably play with the strain part but we want to make sure with the way he hit, and certainly because of the sensitivity to head injuries.”
The Celtics recalled two-way rookie Tremont Waters from Maine for Sunday’s practice and said he would be active for Monday’s game if Walker is not able to suit up.
Stevens said the team’s medical staff would huddle with Walker on Monday to make a decision about whether he can play. Walker is expected to meet with reporters for the first time since his injury scare before Monday’s game.
Walker has routinely been one of the NBA’s most durable players, having appeared in all 82 games last year and missing no more than three games in every season since the 2015-16 campaign.
Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Kings, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Tommy have the call of the game at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.