BOSTON -- Kemba Walker had every reason to think that his night was over going into the fourth quarter.
Boston had a commanding lead against a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that’s considered one of the worst teams in the NBA.
But as the game got a little too close for head coach Brad Stevens’ comfort, he turned to Walker.
And Walker responded with a barrage of 3-pointers that left the Cavs as nothing more than collateral damage in the wake of Boston’s 110-88 win.
Walker finished with a game-high 22 points which included a trio of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that put the Cavs (5-18) away for good.
Boston led by as many as 29 points in the second half, only to see that lead down to as little as 14 points in the fourth with seven minutes to play.
That’s when he called on Walker who came up with one big shot after another.
And the way Walker responded in the fourth quarter when called upon by Stevens was a reminder of just how important it has become for the best players to be locked in from the opening tip-off to the final horn - even when victory seems all but a given.
Said Stevens: “I just told the team afterwards, ‘If you want to be special then model after Kemba because Kemba sits over there thinks his night’s done, gets put back into the game, drills three 3’s and ends it.
Stevens added, “Special is not for everybody.”
Having spent his first eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Walker knows exactly what the Cavs were thinking as they steadily chipped away at Boston’s lead.
Understanding the mindset of a team and players on the comeback trail has helped Walker appreciate and embrace the need to always stay on top of his game and ready to go - even when victory seems all but a given.
Walker understands how a player can lose focus on the game and become relaxed down the stretch in what appears to be a blowout in the making.
“It’s possible,” Walker says before adding, “But at the end of the day you have to stay engaged through the whole game. You just never know. In this league, 20-point leads go so fast. Teams can score in bunches really fast. You have to stay engaged.”
Which is exactly what he did.
That not only helped Boston get the victory on Monday, but also served as a great example for the team’s younger players on how to handle themselves when things get sidetracked after going just the way they want them to for most of the game.
“He set a great example, what he’s done in this league for a very long time,” Tatum said. “That’s why he’s one of the best players in the league.”
And a leader on this team.
“As one of the leaders I feel I have to stay engaged,” Walker said. “Just like … you never know what to expect. This league, guys can score so fast and easy. You just never know when teams will come back. It can get a little nerve-racking and Brad felt he had to put me back in. I knew once I got in there, I had to be more aggressive, look for my shot a little more and that’s what I did.”
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