Brad Stevens: Celtics will "move very slowly" in Kemba Walker's return to play

Brad Stevens: Celtics will "move very slowly" in Kemba Walker's return to play

Kemba Walker was the latest Boston Celtic to undergo a bit of load management, shortly before the NBA season was suspended on March 12. 

Now that the league is prepared to get things going again later this month, the Celtics remain cautious in their approach to Walker’s return to action. 

“We’re going to move very slowly with Kemba Walker and let him strengthen (the left knee)," said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens following the team's first practice in Orlando, Fla. on Friday. "And make sure that he’s all good to go as we enter the seeding games and obviously, the playoffs.”

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Walker, who did some work with the team on Friday, has been among the league's most durable players for most of his NBA career.

But this season, the four-time All-Star has missed 14 games after having missed a total of just six over the four previous seasons combined. Of Boston’s last 10 games prior to the season being suspended on March 12, Walker was out because of left knee issues six times. 

He has talked about the knee being better and healthy, but Walker and the Celtics know all too well the important role that he plays in the team’s chances at making a deep playoff run. 

This is Walker’s first season with the Celtics after signing a four-year, $141 million deal. He began the season as the team’s most potent scorer, but third-year wing Jayson Tatum has emerged as more than just one of the league’s more talented young players. 

Enes Kanter Show: C's center gives first impressions of NBA bubble | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Tatum was named an All-Star for the first time this season, and since the All-Star break a legit case can be made that only a handful of players in the league have been more impressive. 

A healthy Walker gives the Celtics an impressive 1-2 scoring punch that’s complemented by the emergence of Jaylen Brown, who has played at a near All-Star level this season while Gordon Hayward has been about as strong a No. 4 option as you will find on any roster. 

While the time off the court will certainly present a different kind of challenge for the Celtics, the time without games or practices have been a huge benefit for Walker. 

And that benefit is something the Celtics are intent on not squandering, which is why the nice-and-slow approach makes a lot of sense as Walker works his way back into playing major minutes in Boston's quest to go deep into the postseason. 

“I really needed that break,” Walker said recently. “It definitely helped me get back to myself and start to feel comfortable on my knee.

He added, “It was a very unfortunate time but it was in my best interest for sure. I’m going to stay on top of things and take it day by day.”

Celtics accomplished this rare NBA scoring feat in blowout win vs. Nets

Celtics accomplished this rare NBA scoring feat in blowout win vs. Nets

The Boston Celtics dominated the Brooklyn Nets with a bounce-back performance inside the NBA bubble Wednesday night, and they accomplished a rare feat in the process.

The C's cruised to a 149-115 win and had seven players score in double figures, including all five starters. Jaylen Brown led the team with 21 points, giving him at least 18 points in all four seeding games so far. Second-year center Robert Williams (18 points) and backup point guard Brad Wanamaker (13 points) also played well offensively. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The Celtics nearly scored 150 points in a game without overtime and none of their players tallied 25 or more points. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Boston's 149 points were the most by a team without a 25-point scorer since the Seattle SuperSonics in 1994.

The Sonics defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 150-101 in that game, and they had 10 players score in double-figures. Seattle finished with the league's best record in the 1993-94 season, but the team was upset by the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.

The Celtics will return to game action Friday night versus the second-place Toronto Raptors. It's the most difficult matchup remaining on Boston's seeding game schedule.

After Robert Williams' huge night vs. Nets, what's next for Celtics big man?

After Robert Williams' huge night vs. Nets, what's next for Celtics big man?

We suspect a significant spike in attendance at our next Robert Williams Fan Club meeting after Wednesday night’s performance. Please be sure to check the updated seating assignment for all those attempting to re-board the now socially-distanced Timelord hype train.

The 22-year-old Williams offered a firm reminder of his potential by erupting for a career-best 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting with five rebounds, three blocks, two assists, and a steal in a breezy win over the Brooklyn Nets. Williams was plus-21 over nearly 19 minutes of floor time, which included some surprising first-quarter burn.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Our senior leadership committee will be tasked with determining whether this was Williams’ best game of his NBA career. A November 2019 visit to San Antonio (11 points on 5-of-5 shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 blocks) finally has a challenger for that crown.

What we saw Wednesday was the sort of performance that escaped Williams in Boston’s three scrimmages. It’s the sort of performance that none of Boston’s younger players have showcased inside the bubble. Williams and the younger players have rarely left coach Brad Stevens with any reason to ponder a more consistent role.

But Wednesday’s performance will make Stevens think a bit harder about what Williams can offer this team moving forward.

We’ll caution membership from getting too excited about the possibilities. Stevens will not overreact to one performance, particularly not against a Nets team that lacked the energy from its upset over the Bucks the night before. Williams must build off this outing if Stevens is to call on him when the games really matter.

To put it another way, we wouldn’t be surprised if Williams played only sparingly against Toronto on Friday night. But given that none of Boston’s youngest players have stated a strong case for increased playing time entering Wednesday’s game, Williams becomes the first one to submit an application that Stevens must consider (and rookie Romeo Langford, with his continued solid wing defense, has done the same).

Williams did typical Williams things. His first six makes were all at the rim, including a pair of alley-oop finishes (most notably a particularly sexy set play in which Gordon Hayward sprung Williams with a backside screen and Marcus Smart delivered a long-distance lob). Williams capped his night with a 20-foot jumper, showcasing newfound range in a late-clock situation.

His blocks were relatively quiet, at least by his volleyball-spike standards. Williams did come rushing with help to swat a Joe Harris offering across the court, then practically leaped over Langford to swat a Dzanan Musa layup attempt.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Have Williams & Langford earned more trust? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Williams played with quick hands on the defensive end. He showcased his passing skills with an ability to spray the ball to cutters and open shooters on the perimeter.

But it’s all about building off a big night. Two games after his big performance in San Antonio, Williams experienced ankle soreness and sat out. He never generated momentum, and injuries have been a primary culprit early in his NBA career. Hip issues in December forced him to the sidelines for three months.

Williams says he’s healthy now and he needs to keep making Stevens think. He has to dominate outside of game action, whether that’s putting in extra work on off days or shining in practices.

The potential is so obviously there. It’s why none of us with real estate on Timelord Island are willing to sell our properties. Williams has the potential to be an X-factor in the postseason. Or he might not play at all. It all comes down to whether he shows enough now for Stevens to trust him, especially on the defensive end.

Williams doesn’t have to be perfect like his shooting chart on Wednesday. But he has to be consistent. But if he keeps maximizing his opportunities, more chances will follow.