BOSTON -- Trailing by six points at the half, Kemba Walker had a succinct message for his Boston Celtics teammates inside the locker room.
WE HAVE TO PLAY BETTER DEFENSE.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE OFFENSE.
WE GOTTA GET STOPS AND JUST BE OURSELVES!
And Walker was indeed himself on Wednesday, leading the Celtics to a 121-110 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
He finished with a season-high 39 points, doing so on an efficient 13-for-24 shooting night while also tallying six rebounds, four assists and a steal.
“He played great,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum told reporters after the game. “We’re happy to have him back.”
Jaylen Brown added, "He's a big part of this team."
Walker returning to the floor so quickly after what appeared to be a far more serious injury, was surprising to many.
Not Walker, who showed no signs of rust, fatigue or uncertainty following his head-on collision with teammate Semi Ojeleye’s chest which led to some initial numbness and tingling in his hands.
“I could have played last game (against Sacramento), honestly,” Walker said. “If I’m on the court, I’m on the court.”
And when he’s on the court, Walker has shown the ability to impact the game in ways besides scoring.
On the play at Denver in which he suffered his neck sprain injury, Walker had deflected a pass that landed in the hands of teammates Marcus Smart who quickly began to initiate a fast-break while Walker, whose momentum carried him into Ojeleye who was beginning to run up court, fell to the ground.
Against the Nets, we saw Walker once again making his share of hustle plays defensively, whether it be disrupting the timing of the Nets offense, deflecting a pass or getting a steal.
And while it’s easy to lock in on what he did as a scorer on Wednesday, his message at halftime - centered around playing better defense - resonated with his teammates who responded accordingly who limited the Nets (9-9) to 34.9 percent shooting (15-for-43) from the field and 31 percent (9-for-29) from 3-point range after Walker’s halftime spiel in addition to winning the battle on the boards 35-21.
Theis has been impressed with Walker’s overall impact at both ends of the floor.
“He’s making the right plays,” Theis told NBC Sports Boston. “He’s not forcing stuff. He just loves to play with the whole team, keep it moving, play defense, make the right play over and over.”
Before becoming a Celtic, Theis was well aware that Walker was one of the league’s better players when it came to drawing charges.
But as a teammate, Theis says he impacts the team defensively in other ways as well.
“He loves to play defense. He loves to throw his body around, taking charges, being in the right spots and he knows what we’re all capable of doing,” Theis said.
And slowly but surely, Celtics fans are getting a better feel for Walker and what he’s capable of on the floor.
He is showing a knack for impacting the game in a variety of ways, whether it’s scoring, defending, setting teammates up for easy baskets or bouncing back from a potentially long-term injury quicker than anyone not named Kemba Walker, would expect.
“I wasn’t out there thinking about anything,” Walker said. “I wanted to win. Play aggressive, play with intensity.”
Get ready for Celtics-Nets on Friday with Celtics Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m., then Mike & Scal have the call at 12 p.m. on NBC Sports Boston, or you can stream them here through the MyTeams App.