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.

Celtics Talk Podcast: If 76ers pull off upset, who will be their X-factor?

Celtics Talk Podcast: If 76ers pull off upset, who will be their X-factor?

The Boston Celtics will begin their road to Banner 18 on Monday when they take on the Philadelphia 76ers in the Orlando bubble.

A few months ago, a C's-Sixers playoff series likely would have been considered a toss-up. But with Ben Simmons (knee) out for the season and Philadelphia's defense struggling mightily in Florida, Boston enters the first round as the heavy favorite.

It still won't be a cakewalk for the Celtics, however. They'll still have to find a way to limit Sixers star Joel Embiid, and they'll need All-Star point guard Kemba Walker to be himself after spending the seeding round on a minutes restriction.

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.

If the 76ers do find a way to pull off the upset, who will be their X-factor? Chris Forsberg, A. Sherrod Blakely, and Kyle Draper discuss with Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Enquirer on a brand new episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast.

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

"I think it depends on Tobias Harris right about now," Pompey said. "I think Tobias Harris has to be the man. Right now, Tobias Harris is the highest-paid Sixer. He's a 'fringe All-Star.' And I think he tends to play better when Ben [Simmons] is not around, or Joel. When one of the two are missing, he plays well because he gets more touches. I think Tobias has to take charge and be that guy for them to win.

"Also, secondly, I think Josh Richardson has to play great. Those two guys play well, the Sixers may win a couple of games. I don't see them winning the series at all, but Tobias has to play well for them to steal this thing."

The crew also discusses whether we may be underestimating the 76ers, how C's stack up with the rest of the East, who will fill the void for Simmons, and much more.

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

Celtics-76ers Preview: Can Kemba Walker break out of his Philly slump?

Celtics-76ers Preview: Can Kemba Walker break out of his Philly slump?

Twenty-one months ago, Kemba Walker dropped a career high 60 points on the Philadelphia 76ers, so it would be a bit shortsighted to suggest that Walker has any sort of a Philly problem.

But here’s the reality from Walker’s first season in Boston: In three games against the Sixers, Walker shot a mere 37.3 percent overall. He averaged 22.3 points but on 19.7 shots per game. The Celtics owned a team-worst net rating of minus-17.7 during Walker’s 103 minutes of floor time against Philadelphia, a span in which the Celtics were outscored by a total of 34 points. Boston went 0-3 in those games.

While Walker’s performance during seeding games eased concerns about the balky left knee that hindered him before the 2019-20 season paused, one of the big questions for Boston entering a first-round series against the 76ers is whether Walker can play to his All-Star standards and spearhead Boston’s offense against a team that often flustered the Celtics with its size and length this season.

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.

Walker is vital to Boston’s offensive success. The Celtics posted a team-best offensive rating of 115.2 this season when Walker was on the court and that dipped to 109.4 when he was on the bench.

As much as Walker passed the eyeball test inside the bubble, looking spry and swift, the team’s starters didn’t put up their typically glossy offensive numbers. Given the way the Sixers can make things difficult on the defensive end, it’s crucial that Walker has that first unit firing on all cylinders in the postseason.

That starts with Walker being able to create his own offense.

The 76ers will deploy some of their bigger guards against Walker, including 6-foot-5 Josh Richardson, who had nearly three times as many matchup minutes against Walker as the now-sidelined Ben Simmons did during the regular season. Walker can also expect a healthy dose of rookie reserve Matisse Thybulle, another 6-foot-5 wing who made things particularly difficult on him.

The Richardson-Thybulle combo accounted for a total of 21 minutes of matchup time over three games and limited Walker to 27 points on 34.7 percent shooting (8 of 23 overall) including just 28.6 percent (4 of 14) beyond the 3-point arc, per the NBA’s matchup tracking. What’s more, Walker had more turnovers (five) than assists (four) against those defenders. Thybulle also blocked Walker's shot four times and his length can really disrupt the smaller guard out past the 3-point line.

 

The Sixers’ size simply makes everything a little bit more difficult for Walker. They can fight over screens and still contest pull-up jumper and they can close out to the 3-point line with a long arm extended as he rises. Walker made just 9 of 28 above-the-break 3-pointers against Philadelphia, a spot where he shot 38.8 percent against all other teams.

But where the Sixers can really make things tough on Walker is when he tries to score near the basket. Walker connected on just 2 of 8 shots in the restricted area this season against Philadelphia, and went 3 of 9 from inside the paint. Whether it’s Joel Embiid or Al Horford, or a combination of both, the Sixers will scramble to help whenever Walker attacks off the pick-and-roll. 

 

So, what does Walker need to do to thrive against the Sixers’ size? Rewinding to that 60-point outburst in November 2018 offers some clues, especially considering he had almost the same number of field goals that night (21) as he did this entire season against Philly (22). 

Even with Jimmy Butler hounding him for much of the night, Walker was able to attack the basket and finish through contact. He was 9 of 13 at the rim, often charging off screens beyond the 3-point arc and getting to the rim before Embiid could even arrive with help. He didn’t get rattled when some early layups didn’t fall and used body control to muscle home tough finishes. He pulled up in the mid-range when Embiid sank towards the hoop.

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If the Sixers are going to have success in this series, they’re going to have to muddy up the game. They’re going to have to turn them into rock fights. They’re going to have to get physical and try to make Boston uncomfortable.

The Celtics have to counter with ball movement and not settle for perimeter looks. It’s on Walker to keep attacking in the pick-and-roll and try to spray the ball through the labyrinth of long arms to get teammates quality looks.

If Walker has Boston’s offense clicking, it’s going to put an exceptional amount of pressure on the Sixers to match that offensive output, something that won’t be easy with their lack of shooting and the absence of Simmons.

So much of the Celtics’ offense is predicated on Walker’s play. It eases the burden on Jayson Tatum and creates even more opportunities for Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward. But it starts with Walker.

He doesn’t need to have monster nights like that 60-point outburst in 2018 (heck, the Hornets lost that game) but he needs to play with the same confidence and continually put pressure on the Sixers’ defense.