BOSTON (CBS) — Kemba Walker saw a slight uptick in playing time on Sunday afternoon, playing 22 minutes in Boston’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers. The Celtics point guard is still on a minutes restriction due to lingering left knee soreness, but when he’s on the floor, Walker looks like the All-Star point guard who helped guide the Celtics near the top of the Eastern Conference this season.
Walker saw a few extra minutes of action Sunday after playing 19 minutes in Boston’s loss to Milwaukee on Friday night. He was solid again against the Blazers, dropping 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting, making both of his three point attempts.
The plan is to have Walker back to his normal workload when the postseason arrives, and the Celtics have six more seeding games to build up the All-Star point guard. Walker hasn’t showed any signs of the injury or rust when on the floor, and that’s great news for both Walker and the Celtics.
What we haven’t seen yet is Cardiac Kemba in the fourth quarter. In both of Boston’s games in Orlando, Walker was on the bench for the final frame, with Brad Stevens refusing to budge off the point guard’s minutes restriction — despite Walker begging to get back in when both contests were close.
“Brad is not putting me back in. Doesn’t matter the kind of emotions I’ve got,” Walker said Sunday. “He’s not going over the restriction limit. It don’t matter. My best bet is to stay positive, cheer my teammates on to the best of my ability, and that’s what I try to do, stay engaged into the game.”
Playing the “What If” game, the Celtics probably would have enjoyed a much better outcome to Friday’s game if Walker was part of the team’s fourth quarter plans. And things probably would have been a little bit easier against the Blazers, who erased a double digit Boston lead in the second half and even took a brief lead late in the fourth quarter.
Some may be wondering why Walker is on the bench during crunch time. Perhaps it would better suit Stevens and company if Walker had a few more of those minutes when the Celtics are closing out games?
Stevens explained Friday night that it’s extremely hard for a player to gear back up for just a few minutes in one of the most important parts of the game. And with the end goal to get Walker back to speed by the playoffs, the Celtics are sticking to their plan.
There is also the added benefit of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown getting some important experience carrying the load in the final minutes. They got a crash course in that a few years ago when, without the services of Kyrie Irving, Tatum and Brown brought the C’s to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Tatum and Brown flourished down the stretch on Sunday. Tatum bounced back in a big way after a woeful Friday night, scoring 34 with a career-high eight assists on Sunday. One of those helpers was a feed to Brown for a corner three in the final minute, sealing the victory for Boston. Brown had a monster game himself scoring 30 points, 16 of which came during the fourth quarter.
“They’re special. They’re special,” Walker said of Boston’s young duo. “In order for us to be a great team, those two guys are going to have to go at it every night, they’re going to have to balance off each other. They’re gonna have to love each other. Because their talent level is unreal. And it just takes our team to different heights when they’re playing basketball at that kind of level.”
In the coming weeks, Walker will be back to quarterbacking the Boston offense in the fourth quarter, which should make life easier for everyone on the floor. But while Walker sits in crunch time as his minutes restriction slowly evaporates, Boston’s promising young duo is getting some more valuable experience. If Walker is back to being healthy, and Tatum and Brown continue to lower the boom in crunch time, the Celtics will be a dangerous team come the NBA playoffs.