Celtics

Kemba Walker health update a roller coaster, but Enes Kanter offers calming view

Kemba Walker health update a roller coaster, but Enes Kanter offers calming view

Move over, Space Mountain. Disney’s most dizzying ride right now is the daily briefings on Kemba Walker’s health.

There’s twists, there’s turns. A lot of Celtics fans walk away feeling nauseous.

Let’s rewind: Walker started to experience left knee discomfort in mid-January and missed 10 games over the course of six weeks. He was a shell of his All-Star self and his shooting percentages plummeted. Walker got injections in the knee attempting to alleviate his discomfort but was still struggling when the NBA paused in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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With four months for Walker to rest that balky knee, the general thought was the Celtics guard would be at full health for the Orlando restart. Then Walker started experiencing discomfort after initial individual workouts in Boston earlier this month and the team decided to downshift his activities with the hope of ensuring his postseason health.

Walker spent the team’s first four days in Orlando on a strengthening program that kept him from participating in most on-court work outside of post-practice shooting. Celtics coach Brad Stevens initially said the team would tread carefully with Walker with the hope that he could increase his workload at Wednesday’s practice.

At the start of his Zoom session Wednesday, Stevens was asked if Walker was able to go through practice as expected and, well, that’s when the twists and turns started.

Twist 1: "He did not (practice).” 

Turn 2: "He did a harder workout on [Tuesday’s] off day."

Twist 3: “They’ve got him on a one-day off, one-day on plan."

Turn 4: "He’s reacted great, his knee feels good, and that’s a good thing.”

Twist 5: "He’s really prioritizing accumulating strength in that knee, so the day-on, day-off thing will be in effect for a while."

So Walker didn’t practice, but he got in a hard workout a day earlier. His knee feels good, but he’s pretty much got to downshift every other day in the early going.

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

A check on Celtics fans' panic meters would probably run the gamut. Those still scarred from KG’s knee, Bird’s back, IT’s hip, Kyrie’s knee, and Hayward’s ankle probably saw their meters soar. Those with faith that the Celtics are just being overly cautious probably only whistled a bit.

The Kemba coaster ended on the upswing, however. After running through all the ball-handlers the team could lean on whenever Walker is not available, Stevens punctuated his thought by noting, “Every indication is he’ll be available when we’re playing games.”

Stevens has consistently said that Boston’s focus over the next month is simply to have everyone healthy and the team playing with a rhythm when the playoffs start in mid-August. Heck, that’s been the team’s goal much of the past decade (with less-than-stellar results when it comes to star player injuries).

But is there reason to still worry? For that, we asked podcast buddy and Celtics center Enes Kanter if fans should be concerned about Walker’s health.

Kanter answered the question with his own query: Had we seen the video the Celtics posted after Monday’s practice in which Walker made nine straight 3-pointers?

“He looks like regular Kemba to me,” said Kanter.

He did acknowledge that the team’s priority is to be at full health when the games matter most. 

One thing Kanter yearned to stress: Walker’s absence from the court hasn’t taken away from his contributions. Kanter praised Walker’s leadership and is bullish that, when the playoffs start, Walker will be out there doing all the things that All-Star Walker was doing at the start of the year.

“[Celtics fans] can relax, man. Trust me,” said Kanter. "For Kemba, it’s like riding a bike. Once he’s out there, he’s going to get everybody rolling. He’s going to make himself better, he’s going to make everybody else better around him. The Celtics fans should not be so worried about him. It’s Kemba Walker.”

Added Kanter: “He looks really good to me, man. He looks in really good shape, very lean. He didn’t lose any touch or whatever. To me, it’s Kemba. He’s an All-Star, superstar. Obviously, he knows how to play basketball. Once he gets out there, he’s going to get himself going. What’s impressed me about him so much is his leadership. Sometimes you’re sidelined, but he's still talking, still communicating, still with a smile. That's important."

Alas, the Kemba coaster will remain in service until we see that. With nearly all of the Celtics media back home in Boston and locked outside the bubble, we don’t get even a tiny glimpse of practice or a morning shoot-around to try to read Walker’s body language. We’re left to rely on the small bits of information being relayed from afar.

It’s fair to be skeptical. Walker hasn’t talked to reporters since entering the bubble and probably won’t do such until he goes through his first practice. Maybe it’ll be later in the week.

Thus, the Kemba coaster glides on in the darkness, with more twists and turns to come. Celtics fans are left to hope it ends with smiles, and not everyone reaching for their puke buckets.

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 gotta 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.”

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. 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 Timelord 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.