Kemba Walker has a reputation for hitting big shots when it matters most. They don't call the Boston Celtics point guard "Cardiac Kemba" for nothing.
So, why has his clutch gene suddenly gone dormant?
Walker struggled mightily in Tuesday's 117-114 overtime loss to the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, needing 19 shots to score 19 points while going 1-for-9 from 3-point range.
The All-Star point guard has shot below 32 percent in his last three playoff games and is mired in an abysmal 3-point slump, with just five makes on his last 34 deep ball attempts.
On a new Celtics Talk Podcast following Boston's Game 1 loss, NBC Sports Boston's Kyle Draper, A. Sherrod Blakely and Chris Forsberg tried to make sense of Walker's sudden cold spell.
"I don't know whether Kemba is trying to shake off the residual effects of being put on lockdown against Toronto or if there's something physically wrong with him, whether he's maybe masking some of the physical issues that he had leading up to the seeding games," Blakely said, referring to Walker's balky knee that forced the Celtics to limit his minutes leading up to the playoffs.
"There was a lot of load management going on. Are we seeing Kemba feeling some of the effects of that of what has been the most playoff games his body has ever gone through?"
Blakely added that Walker "just doesn't look right," and that he's not able to create the usual separation on his trademark stepback jumper.
Forsberg gave a nod to Miami's perimeter defenders for making Walker's life difficult but found the veteran guard's lapses on defense inexcusable.
"Here's the disappointing thing for me: He compounded it on the defensive end," Forsberg said of Walker. "Losing Jimmy Butler for that 3-pointer at the end of the regulation and then losing (Tyler) Herro in transition -- that's unforgivable.
" ... I don't know if it's in his head and mentally he's just fighting himself a little bit because those shots aren't falling, but the numbers have been bad. ... They've got to find a way to get Kemba going."
Draper added another concerning observation: Not only has Walker's shot disappeared, but he's also not able to get to the basket to create his own offense. The Celtics guard has attempted just 12 free throws over his last three games.
"Here's the problem: Kemba's not getting by anybody," Draper said. "He's not getting by Herro, he's not getting by Jae Crowder.
"I feel like the only thing that he has in his game off the dribble is his stepback. He's not getting to the rim, and that's concerning to me."
Also discussed on the new episode: the Celtics' struggles with closing out games, whether Boston fans underestimated the Heat and the fallout from the Denver Nuggets' monumental upset of the Los Angeles Clippers.