BOSTON — Kemba Walker remembers watching the Isaiah Thomas-era Celtics from afar. He marveled at the way Thomas' big fourth quarters used to make the Garden roar. He watched Boston's playoff surge in the 2017 playoffs and wondered what it felt like to play on that sort of stage.
How crazy, then, was it to watch Walker tuck behind an Enes Kanter screen and splash a crunch-time 3-pointer over Thomas to seal Boston’s 140-133 triumph over the visiting Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
The Celtics have now won nine in a row. That’s two games longer than any win streak Walker ever experienced in Charlotte. Boston owns the NBA’s best record at 9-1 as it braces for a five-game trip that ought to tell us a lot more about where exactly this team sits in among the league’s elite.
The Celtics have had to patch together some ugly wins early this season and the only constant has been Walker figuring out a way to dump in a bunch of points, particularly in key spots.
Walker is 17th in the NBA in scoring while averaging 25 points per game but he’s fifth in second-half scoring, putting up 16.4 points per game, all while shooting 50 percent from the field and 55.9 percent beyond the 3-point arc after the intermission. He’s sixth in fourth-quarter scoring at 8.1 points per game but rises to No. 1 in the league when you judge based on per-100 possession production (57.9 points per 100 possessions).
No need to make comparisons here. Kardiac Kemba isn’t producing at King in the Fourth level production, but he’s damn good. The Celtics have had an embarrassment of riches in terms of fourth-quarter producers in recent seasons from Thomas to Kyrie Irving to Walker.
It’s why Marcus Smart laughs and declares himself spoiled when asked about all the clutch players he’s had alongside him in Boston’s backcourt.
"I’ve been lucky. I’ve been here for all three of them,” said Smart. "Those guys, it’s a different mindset when the fourth quarter hits.
"It’s kinda like when you know you’ve got to do something. Your mom’s coming home and you ain’t done the dishes so you had to run. That’s how it is in the fourth quarter. Something just clicks like, ‘Oh, we gotta go, it’s time to turn it on.’"
Walker scored 11 third-quarter points Wednesday then went cold for a stretch in the fourth. The late 3-pointer was his only make of the frame and yet the Celtics needed it to bury these pesky but defense-averse Wizards.
What is it about key moments that allows Walker to shine brightest?
“Just playing the game. Just the way the game is going sometimes, Brad is just calling my number,” said Walker. "Whenever he’s calling the plays for me, whatever’s my play, I’m just looking to be aggressive, make the right play. But my teammates do such a great job kind of stretching, getting me open, holding the screens. They know I like to pull up off the screens so they do a great job of just getting me open.”
Walker finished with a team-high 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting but was just one of seven players in double figures for scoring. He spent much of his postgame press conference gushing about the way others stepped up, including Boston’s injury-thinned bench.
A west coast trip awaits. There’s going to be bumps in the road, at least more than Boston has encountered thus far. But Walker is ready for it.
"We’re going to learn a lot, man,” said Walker. "When you go on road trips is when adversity starts to hit, fatigue starts to set in, guys want to get back home. Those trips are long. But we’re going to learn a lot about each other.
“Hopefully when adversity does hit, we’re going to see how we handle it. That’s what’s the most important thing. For me, I just want to keep this team together as much as possible. This is a huge stretch for us, really important, and it’s gonna show what we’re made of.”
Walker knows there’s going to be games where, like Thomas, he’s going to have to step up and lead this team. He’s going to have to shoulder the load.
He’s been watching from afar and he’s ready for those moments, and so much more.
Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Warriors, which tips off Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.