Celtics

Celtics

BOSTON — Kemba Walker has had plenty of memorable fourth quarter moments with the Boston Celtics this season. 

But right now, the one that sticks out more than the others is one he would just as soon forget. 

Clinging to a one-point with possession of the ball against Oklahoma City, Walker turned the ball over, which led to the game-winning basket for the Thunder. 

Having missed five games to rest his sore knee, the knee-jerk reaction to the late-game miscue against the Thunder was that Walker still needs some time to get his body and his game back to where it was before the Celtics shut him down for a few games. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

But the bothersome knee — while feeling good at the moment — has the potential to become problematic without warning for Walker and the Celtics. 

And it heightens the level of uncertainty about whether his early struggles since the All-Star break have to do with him being a little rusty or whether what we’ve seen thus far is reason to be concerned about Walker’s ability to be the high-impact, difference-maker he has been for the duration of his career. 

Walker has shown no signs of being overly concerned about his status for Boston going forward, indicating that his knee is feeling better from one day to the next. 

That’s good to hear, for sure. 

But watching him play, it’s clear that Walker — for now at least — isn’t the player that we’ve come to know, love and respect as one of the best in the game. 

 

Of course, part of the challenge he faces now is getting into a good flow and rhythm with his play and to a lesser extent, the play of Jayson Tatum. 

At the beginning of the season, the focus was on Walker and how Tatum’s game could complement his. 

Today?

It’s a complete 180-degree reversal with Tatum ascending to being arguably the team’s best player with Walker having to adapt his game to better mesh with Tatum in this different role. 

And unlike a lot of stars in this league, Walker has no issue with that. 

On more than one occasion, he has indicated that the team was going to need Tatum to continue to elevate his own individual play in order for the Celtics to have the kind of magical, deep postseason run that Walker is excited about being a part of this season. 

But for the team to have the level of success that Walker is eyeing, he needs to do his part. 

And since returning to the Celtics lineup, that just hasn’t happened with the kind of consistency either he or the Celtics want. 

Simply put, Walker has to be better than what we’ve seen thus far in what has been a relatively small sample size of games.

In the three games he has played in since the All-Star break, Walker has averaged 16.0 points, four rebounds and five assists while shooting 31.9 percent (15-for-47) from the field and 25 percent (7-for-28) from 3-point range — all well below his season averages.

He and the Celtics remain confident that he will get back to where he was before the All-Star break, and the rust from so many days off without playing will continue to be shaken off. 

But the longer he goes without having that breakout game — or having more games like the Thunder loss in which he committed an ill-timed and costly turnover in the final seconds of play — the question of whether his struggles are about rust or an added reason to be concerned about his long-term future will linger. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Pacers-Celtics, which begins Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.