Celtics Talk Podcast: Will load management be Kemba Walker's new normal?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Will load management be Kemba Walker's new normal?

The NBA's four-month hiatus was supposed to be a blessing in disguise for Kemba Walker, who was dealing with a nagging injury before the coronavirus pandemic halted the 2019-20 season.

Instead, the downtime reiterated that Walker's knee may be an issue for quite some time.

The Boston Celtics held the All-Star point guard out of practice Monday and Tuesday in Orlando after he experienced "a little bit of discomfort" in his left knee during individual workouts in Boston, per head coach Brad Stevens.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

Walker already has missed 14 games this season, so it's not a great sign that the knee is still bothering him after four months of rest. While the Celtics are optimistic about Walker being a full go for the playoffs, NBC Sports Boston's A. Sherrod Blakely is more wary of what future seasons will look like for the 30-year-old guard.

"My concern has more to do with the fact that this is year one of a four-year deal," Blakely told co-host Chris Forsberg on the latest Celtics Talk Podcast. "This is a guy who only missed for games total in the previous four years and he's already missed 14 this year. That makes me very concerned that this may be the beginning of a career of load management for Kemba Walker.

"I just remember at the start of the season, I asked him, 'You're coming up on 30, you've logged a ton of minutes: Any talk of load management?' And he kind of scoffed at me when I brought that up. And now in retrospect I'm thinking, 'Yeah, I might have been onto something there.' "

Celtics Talk Podcast: Load management the new normal for Kemba? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Walker indeed was an iron man for the Hornets, playing at least 73 games in all but two of his eight seasons with Charlotte and at least 80 games in four of those campaigns. A deep team like the Celtics can afford to give Walker some "load management" games, however, so missing 10 to 15 regular-season contests might be Walker's new reality in Boston.

As for the task at hand, Forsberg is confident the C's can get Walker right for the playoffs considering how they've handled previous veteran players with knee issues.

"The Celtics have downshifted guys in the past, whether that was Al Horford or Marcus Morris -- guys with knee issues that they wanted to strengthen so that they were upright in the playoffs," Forsberg said. "Al was playing 35 minutes per game in the playoffs throughout his Celtics career.

"I'm not overly concerned that they can keep Kemba ready. It's just going to be a storyline that lingers and goes on and on: When he plays only 14 minutes in one of these seeding games, it's going to be an issue."

The Celtics have eight "seeding" games to try to move up from the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference before the playoffs begin. Walker might play less in those games considering Boston has locked up a playoff spot, but once the postseason rolls around, Forsberg doesn't expect the four-time All-Star to hold back.

"The other thing we need to remember: He's going to be highly motivated," Forsberg said of Walker. "He hasn't had that chance to really show what he can do on the playoff stage, and I think if anyone's going to be able to battle through a little discomfort, it's going to be Kemba Walker."

Blakely and Forsberg also spoke with ESPN's Eric Woodyard about the Milwaukee Bucks' mindset entering the NBA bubble and how they stack up with the Celtics. 

Check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast or watch it on YouTube below.

Celtics have entered the elite contender group chat

Celtics have entered the elite contender group chat

Well, hello there, Boston Celtics.

After seven inconsistent performances down in Orlando, the Celtics asserted themselves — and loudly, too — as a legitimate title contender with a dominant 122-100 thumping of the previously bubble unbeaten Toronto Raptors.

There is always a danger in overreacting to a single game but this was no fluke. The Celtics simply displayed their full potential and on both ends of the court.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Sunday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The ball whizzed around the floor with an extra focus on ball movement leading to 16 3-point makes. The Celtics shuffled their feet and guarded with purpose, limiting the Raptors to 57 points through three quarters while Boston’s lead ballooned as high as 40.

"This game will mean nothing if we (see the Raptors again)," Stevens cautioned after his team’s win. We’d counter that it probably would not have mattered if the Raptors were clicking on most of their cylinders because of the way the Celtics played for much of the night.

The Celtics put seven players in double figures and had an offensive rating north of 120 early in the fourth quarter before Stevens fetched the starters. That’s an absurd number when you consider the Raptors had limited teams to 96.1 points per 100 possessions through their first three seeding games.

While quality teams like the Lakers and Heat struggled to generate offense against Toronto, the Celtics made every extra pass, sprayed the ball around to open shooters, and knocked down open looks.

A Raptors team that has routinely challenged teams to shoot corner 3-pointers watched Boston scorch from that spot. Boston made a staggering 10 of 15 attempts from the corners, with everyone including big man Daniel Theis having success there.

"I think the biggest thing is that, when the ball doesn’t stick, we’re pretty good,” said Stevens. "We really had a large emphasis on that. Not only tonight but the other night as well. We've got to keep sharing it and keep making plays for others. Our players are really good, they’re going to draw a lot of help, when they do, it’s just a matter of making the right read and doing that over and over.”

Or as Jayson Tatum underscored it: "Guys got some easy, open looks and I think that opened the game up for us.”

As good as Boston’s offense was, the defense was even better. And considering the poor showing on that side of the ball to this point of bubble play, that was maybe even more encouraging than the offense.

Yes, the Raptors missed some shots but Boston didn’t give them much easy. Toronto mustered only 12 first-quarter points as the Celtics played with ratcheted-up defensive intensity throughout the first half.

Boston needs to bottle up this defense moving forward.

"I saw something, we were like the last team or one of the last teams in defense in the bubble, and that’s just kind of unacceptable for us with the elite defenders we have on this team and just collectively, our identity, who we want to be,” said Tatum.

"We have to take more pride in that. I think today was a good step in the right direction but we’ve got to continue to get back to who we are and guard how we normally do.”

Enes Kanter Show: It could get ugly for opponents when Kemba’s healthy | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Stevens tightened up his rotation but went back to second-year center Robert Williams as his first big off the bench. He was rewarded with 11 minutes, 27 seconds of solid play, with Williams putting up 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting with four rebounds. He was much more disciplined in his coverages and again offered hope that he can be a bit of an X-factor for the Celtics if needed in certain matchups.

Brad Wanamaker added 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting off the Boston bench as the team didn’t throttle down with reserves on the court. Heck, Marcus Smart was 1-of-8 shooting and STILL finished plus-19 in 24 minutes of action.

The Raptors had been the darling of NBA pundits in recent days. Their early bubble domination had prognosticators suggesting they might be more dangerous than Milwaukee, which isn’t an outrageous suggestion considering Toronto’s talent and the experience gained last season.

The Celtics sent notice to the league that they plan to be in that hunt for the East crown. Despite what Stevens suggested, shellacking the Raptors like that — and finishing 3-1 in the season series — has to help a little bit should these teams see each other again in the East semifinals.

The Celtics finally showed the type of team they can be. Now they must bottle it up and take it into the postseason. The Boston team we’d seen in early seeding games wasn’t consistent enough, or defensively stout enough, to hang around very long.

The team we saw Friday night absolutely can get comfy inside that bubble.

Celtics vs. Raptors Overreactions: C's defense is ready for the big stage

Celtics vs. Raptors Overreactions: C's defense is ready for the big stage

The Boston Celtics made a big-time statement on Friday night, dominating the Toronto Raptors in every facet of the game in their 122-100 victory.

Jaylen Brown led the C's with 20 points and Jayson Tatum chipped in with 18 of his own. Kemba Walker added 17 points and four assists in his 23 minutes.

Here are three instant overreactions to Boston's impressive performance, which brings its record to 46-23:

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Sunday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

1. The Celtics have figured it out on defense.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

The 122-100 final score does not do the Celtics' defense justice. It was sensational in this game, and it proved the defense's performance vs. Brooklyn wasn't simply the result of playing against a bad team.

Boston's defense struggled through the first few games in the Orlando bubble, but the last couple of contests have shown what this unit is capable of come playoff time. After all, it's been one of the best defensive units in the league for the majority of the 2019-20 season.

The Celtics will need more defensive performances like this one down the stretch if they're to beat Toronto, Milwaukee, or Philadelphia in the postseason, and Friday night's game proved they're capable of making it happen.

2. Robert Williams is a game-changer.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

Am I aboard the Timelord hype train? You bet I am. And you should be too.

It didn't quite match his enormous night vs. the Nets, but Robert Williams still made his presence felt vs. Toronto. The second-year big man had 10 points and four rebounds in 11 minutes while contributing to the Celtics' lockdown defensive effort.

It's time to get Williams into the rotation on a more consistent basis.

3. Celtics proved they can beat Raptors in a playoff series.

Verdict: Overreaction

This was an extremely encouraging all-around performance from the Celtics. C's fans should be confident going toe-to-toe with anyone come playoff time, and that includes the Raptors.

But as great as this win was, Boston can't get complacent. Toronto remains one of the scariest potential playoff matchups with their lockdown defense. It wasn't on display in this game, but it will be if these two teams meet up for a seven-game set.

Be inspired by what you saw from the C's on Friday night, but don't expect the same kind of dominance if/when these teams face off again. The tables can turn in a heartbeat.