The Boston Celtics need more from Kemba Walker.
Even he admits as much.
Already mired in a rather improbable postseason shooting slump, Walker compounded matters Tuesday night with a couple of defensive miscues in key situations which allowed the Miami Heat to rally past Boston for a 117-114 triumph in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"I’m just playing terrible, to be honest,” admitted Walker, who needed 19 shots for 19 points. He missed 13 shots overall, including eight of his nine 3-point attempts in Game 1.
"Not much I can say but I have to be better. I have to do better for this team on both ends of the floor, have to make better decisions, just have to make shots overall.”
For a fleeting moment late in the fourth quarter, it seemed like Walker might be able to atone for his shooting woes with a vintage Cardiac Kemba sequence.
Walker muscled home a driving floater while blanketed by old C's friend Jae Crowder to put Boston up five with 69 seconds to play in regulation. That probably should have been enough to salt away a win.
Instead, Walker was slow to find Tyler Herro while retreating on defense and the sharpshooting rookie made him pay by burying a quick 3-pointer just seven seconds after Walker’s make.
Instead of getting Boston into its offense, Walker pounded the ball into the ground for nearly the entirety of Boston’s ensuing possession. He didn’t advance inside the 3-point arc until there were less than three seconds on the shot clock and got his shot blocked by Crowder when Miami’s wing didn't bite on Walker’s initial up-fake. The Celtics were whistled for a shot-clock violation, giving Miami the ball back with 38.4 seconds to go.
Jimmy Butler made it hurt, and at Walker’s expense. Walker got switched onto Butler and denied an initial drive but then unforgivably lost Butler to help defend a Goran Dragic drive on the other side of the floor. Dragic fed the open Butler in the corner and he calmly made the go-ahead 3-pointer after Walker over-pursued while scrambling to contest.
That shot might have won the game if not for Marcus Smart drawing a foul on the ensuing possession.
In overtime, Walker hit an early stepback as Boston opened a two-possession lead. Yet again, he negated it with defensive lapses.
Walker lost Crowder looking for a switch on a Butler screen and Crowder hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with three minutes to go in the extra session. Walker again pounded the ball into the ground for the duration of the next possession and, when he stumbled trying to get to a mid-range spot, forced Smart to launch a late-clock 3.
The Celtics lost a challenge — and a key timeout — challenging a Walker blocking foul with 87 seconds to play and trailing by one. They could have used that timeout to get a better last gasp.
Walker actually hit a clutch stepback with 23.2 seconds to go to put Boston up 114-113 but Butler spoiled it by muscling home an and-one drive over Tatum with 12 seconds to play -- all while Walker watched from the bench after being lifted for a defensive replacement.
Here are the sobering numbers: Over his last three games, Walker has scored just 38 points on 13-of-46 shooting (28.3 percent). He’s made only three of 22 3-pointers in that span. Maybe even more concerning: Walker has missed 29 of his last 34 3-pointers overall since Game 4 against Toronto.
All of which makes you wonder if Walker’s balky left knee is bothering him a bit. He hasn’t had quite the same explosion or the same burst we saw early in the Philadelphia series after the Celtics ramped him up slowly during seeding games.
These playoff games are coming fast and furious with an every-other-day schedule for Boston thus far. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for rest and recovery. When asked about his knee throughout the postseason, Walker has stressed that he simply needs to stay on top of his recovery.
But if you look at his minutes totals since Game 3 of the Raptors series — 39, 41, 36, 52, 44, 43 — he’s averaging nearly 42 minutes per night after playing a mere 31.1 minutes per game during the regular season.
The Celtics sometimes paired Walker with Brad Wanamaker on Tuesday night to defray some of the ball-handling duties. But even the Heat’s weaker perimeter defenders like Herro were able to bother Walker with their length. And Bam Adebayo switched a lot of pick-and-rolls, swallowing up Walker drives.
Little will come easy for Walker in this series. He might not see the box-and-1 that Toronto deployed in the second round, but the Heat are going to make him work to get quality shots. There were more than a few instances Tuesday where Walker was slipping near the free-throw line just trying to get to his familiar stepback.
The bottom line is Walker has to be better. He has to make more shots. He has to avoid defensive lapses. Even when his shot has defied him this postseason, he’s made up for it with effort and energy on the defensive end. On Monday, he compounded his struggles with mental miscues.
Walker knows he has to be better. This series is trending towards being as much of a grind as the last round. And the Celtics need the All-Star version of Walker -- or something close to it -- if they’re going to make Boston earn everything.