By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — An upset stomach on Sunday morning wasn’t going to slow down Kemba Walker. Not with his first trip to the second round of the NBA playoffs so close.
Walker was magnificent again for the Celtics, dropping a game-high 32 points in their 110-106 Game 4 victory over the 76ers as Boston completed its first-round sweep. Now, for the first time of his nine-year career, Walker is finally moving on to the conference semifinals.
“It feels good,” Walker said after Sunday’s victory. “This is the reason I came to Boston, to be playing in the playoffs and to advance, to play high-level basketball. It feels good.”
“As happy I am that we won, I’m happier that he gets to experience this, getting out of the first round,” Jayson Tatum said of his veteran point guard. “To help him and experience this together, it’s fun to be part of this team.”
With four wins over the 76ers, Walker has already surpassed his playoff win total from his eight years with the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets. He didn’t want to make much of his pre-game tummy troubles, shrugging it off after the game.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was a little more enthusiastic after Sunday’s win.
“He walked through with us and then went and got checked out, so he missed the [pre-game] film session. I was a little worried about him, but he’s just a warrior, a competitor,” Stevens said. “He loves to play and it doesn’t surprise me that he has been so good, even under the circumstances.”
Walker had just about everything going on Sunday. He was able to get into the paint when he wanted, and when he didn’t finish down low he was usually rewarded with a trip to the line, making 12 of his 13 free throws. He had just 12 trips to the line total in the previous three games of the series. When the paint was shut down, he beat the 76ers with his mid-range shot or from deep. Overall, Walker hit eight of his 15 shots on Sunday, including four of nine from downtown.
“I’m just trying to play basketball the right way, like I try to do every night,” said Walker. “I try to take advantage of every opportunity the best I can.”
Walker was phenomenal all series, averaging 24.3 points off 49 percent shooting to go with 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. After hitting just one of his 10 shots from downtown in Games 1 and 2, he shot 7-for-17 from three-point range in Games 3 and 4.
All of this from a player who carried a shroud of concern when he arrived in the NBA bubble. Walker’s balky knee had him on a minutes restriction and forced him to sit out practices throughout Boston’s seeding game schedule, which did not sit well with Walker. But he’s happy that he went through the necessary steps, and is now playing some of his best basketball as a member of the Celtics.
“It’s been great. It’s not over and I need to stay on top of it,” he said of his rehab. “I’ve been doing a great job sticking with it. The training staff, they gave me a great plan to stick to.”
“A lot of credit to Kemba and our trainers,” said Stevens. “He didn’t like playing limited minutes an didn’t like not practicing, but got the knee stronger and was ready to go to be the best he could be on Aug. 17. He was great tonight and he’ll have to continue to be really good.”
Walker and the Celtics are happy to be moving on, but they know this is just the first step. There are many more to come, and they will be a lot more difficult.
Walker isn’t jumping for joy just yet (he shouldn’t anyways, not with that knee), as the Celtics will likely square off against the defending champs in the next round. The Toronto Raptors are looking to complete their own first-round sweep of the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday evening.
“I don’t know if there’s much to celebrate, honestly. We didn’t do much yet,” said Walker. “It’s a great thing we were able to beat that team, they’re a great team with great players. It does feel good, but we know it’s not over.
“The work isn’t done; we won the series but we’re looking forward to more tough ones,” added Walker.