Celtics

Is it time for the Celtics to worry about Kemba Walker's knee?

Is it time for the Celtics to worry about Kemba Walker's knee?

Brad Stevens revealed Monday that Kemba Walker experienced “a little bit of discomfort” in his left knee after individual workouts in Boston.

That’s not the news that Celtics fans, long convinced their team is snakebitten when it comes to star players and injuries, were hoping to hear after the team’s four-month break without basketball.

Walker was held out of practice again Monday as he continued a four-day strengthening program aimed at keeping Walker upright inside the bubble. Stevens had previously noted that the team will limit Walker’s minutes during scrimmages and seeding games with hopes that will allow Walker to operate without restrictions when the playoffs begin in mid-August.

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Just 12 days ago, Walker deemed himself “ready to go,” while noting how the break was “super important” to get him comfortable on the knee again. Walker had his left knee drained and received Synvisc injections to combat swelling and soreness that caused him to miss a total of 10 games, including two stretches in February.

For any other team, this might not be reason for concern. For the team that’s dealt with Larry Bird’s back, Kevin Garnett’s knee, Shaquille O’Neal’s heel, Isaiah Thomas’ hip, Gordon Hayward’s ankle, and Kyrie Irving’s knee, this is just the latest in a long line of injuries to star players that lingered into the postseason.

Making it all the more tough to swallow is that Walker had been an NBA ironman early in his career, appearing in 94.5 percent of Charlotte’s regular-season games during his first eight years in the NBA. In Boston, he missed nearly a quarter of the team’s 64 games, and it could have been more if he hadn’t avoided a serious neck injury in a scary on-court collision in Denver.

It’s fair to be concerned about Walker’s long-term health. He’s a 30-year-old, undersized guard who relies on that knee for speed and explosion. The Walker we saw early in the new calendar year was a shell of the All-Star who shot nearly 40 percent beyond the 3-point arc for the first 46 games of his Celtics career.

If the Celtics were trying to calm the masses, a social media post with Walker hitting nine consecutive 3-pointers after Monday’s session was a much-needed glimpse.

Enes Kanter noted that Walker had slimmed down during the break in the season, which could aid the wear and tear on that bothersome knee. The question is whether Walker can play at an All-Star-caliber level again after all the downtime or will the knee require greater maintenance down the road?

We should get some answers soon. Stevens said Walker would get his workload elevated Wednesday after the team takes a day off on Tuesday. Stevens admitted he’s eager to see his team at full health, something it so rarely was during much of the season.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can C's or Raptors burst Bucks' bubble in East? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The Celtics have treaded carefully, particularly with knee issues, in recent seasons. Horford, in particular, would take stretches off with the goal of strengthening a balky knee and the Celtics were able to lean on him for 35 minutes per game while appearing in all 46 of Boston’s playoff games during his three-year tenure.

If this is simply the Celtics treading extra cautiously given the unique circumstances, then it might not be as concerning as initially thought.

"He certainly, I think, feels better than he did even in March,” said Stevens. "But with just even the small discomfort, we said, 'Let's take the four days, and ramp it up appropriately.’

"The No. 1 thing is strength, and strength around the knee. Hard to do that with the four days we just had. … I think it makes a lot of sense to then ramp him up as we start up again on Wednesday. That may mean he's a little bit behind when we start scrimmage play and when we start seeding games play from his normal minutes but his health is the most important thing and it's not just for this particular period; it's for the long run and strength around the knee is important.”

But it’s undeniable that Walker’s presence is vital to Boston’s success. For as good as Jayson Tatum was in February and March, masking Walker’s on-court struggles, the Celtics need multiple star-level options to lean on during the postseason.

They absolutely need a healthy Walker when the playoffs start up.

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics center praises Brad Stevens for explanation of less playing time

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics center praises Brad Stevens for explanation of less playing time

The Boston Celtics committed to Brad Stevens with a contract extension earlier this week, and it isn't difficult to see why.

The C's head coach has received rave reviews from players and staff who have had the opportunity to work alongside him in Boston over the last seven years. Not only has Stevens done a phenomenal job leading the team on the court, but possibly even more importantly, he's been able to connect with his players off of it.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which begins Monday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

In a brand new episode of the Enes Kanter Show, the Celtics center explains to Chris Forsberg what makes Stevens such a great head coach.

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics’ dodgeball games and getting ready to joust with Joel Embiid and the Sixers | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"What makes him so special is what he does off the court," Kanter said about Stevens. "He's the type of coach that tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Always keeps it 100 percent real with you. More than a coach, he's just a friend, man. You can literally go to talk to him about anything."

Kanter, who has seen his minutes reduced lately in the Orlando bubble, praised Stevens for how he communicated with him about his decrease in playing time.

"There were some games where I was not playing a lot," said Kanter. "I went to his room and we talked, and he was like, 'Hey, listen, it's your ninth year now and there's so many young guys that are looking up to you. Your best strength is not the offensive rebound. Your best strength is not the post-ups, not the finishes and everything. Your best strength is just being a good teammate. Just trying to give positive energy. And that's what we need from you in the games where you don't play.'

"I mean, look, not every coach is comfortable talking to their players. The Celtics organization definitely feels very special to have him on our side ... It's a blessing to have a person like him on our team."

Also discussed on the show: The story behind the Celtics' dodgeball game in the bubble, Kanter's frustration at Jayson Tatum "being good at everything," and how the Celtics can slow down Joel Embiid.

You can listen and subscribe to The Enes Kanter Show here, or watch on YouTube.

Celtics-76ers preview: What will Philly miss most from Ben Simmons?

Celtics-76ers preview: What will Philly miss most from Ben Simmons?

As we saw throughout most of Philadelphia’s seeding games, the 76ers losing Ben Simmons (left knee surgery) for the season was a huge blow. 

It’s one of the main reasons why the Boston Celtics are overwhelming favorites over their Eastern Conference rival in the teams' first-round playoff series, which begins on Monday.

So where will Simmons' absence be felt the most?

Defense

For all the impressive things Simmons does with the basketball, the Sixers will miss him most on the defensive side.

The 6-foot-10 Simmons boasts length, size and lateral quickness that causes problems for opponents offensively because of his pick-and-roll defensive potential that’s on display most nights.

Against the Celtics, Simmons spends most of his time on the floor guarding Boston’s top scorer, Jayson Tatum. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which begins Monday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

In the four games the two teams played this season, three of which were won by Philly, Simmons limited Tatum’s impact each time. 

According to NBA.com/stats, Tatum shot 31.3 percent (5-for-16) in games in which he was guarded by Simmons this season. 

So, if Tatum puts up big-time numbers in this series, no one should be surprised considering the Sixers player who has consistently done the best job at defending him won’t be on the floor.

Offensive mismatches

A point guard trapped in a big man's body, Simmons has speed and strength that creates matchup problems on the perimeter as well as on the post.

The 24-year-old averaged 16.4 points along with 7.8 rebounds and 8.0 assists this season while shooting a team-best 58 percent from the field.

Celtics Talk Podcast: The Al Horford conundrum and why Sixers won’t last long vs. Celtics | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Simmons’ shooting range has been a topic of discussion for as long as he has been in the NBA. And while it creates a different kind of challenge for the Sixers when it comes to running their offense, the third-year pro has shown himself to be talented enough to still be a high-impact, difference-maker for Philly.

Playmaking

Soon after the Sixers arrived in the bubble, head coach Brett Brown talked about how the team was planning to play Simmons more at power forward to better utilize his versatility and create better spacing for the team’s perimeter shooters.

Like most of what the Sixers have tried to do this season, the few times we saw Simmons in that role it didn’t work. But his absence creates an even bigger hole when it comes to playmaking.

Shake Milton has moved into the starting lineup after putting together a string of impressive performances prior to the league being suspended in March.

However, his impact was greatest as a scorer, which is different from what he is being charged with now. Milton is averaging 12.5 points as a starter this season to go with 2.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists. 

No one is expecting him to put up Simmons-like numbers, but the more you watch Milton play and try to run Philly's offense, the clearer it becomes just how much Simmons’ presence is missed.