The Boston Celtics never had it against the New York Knicks. They got bullied right off the opening tip and never could find any rhythm.
“They really whipped our ass from the first minute,” Daniel Theis bluntly said after the 30 point loss. “Throwing the ball all over the place, we had so many turnovers, we couldn’t hit a shot… You’re going to have nights like this, but hopefully it’s just one night or two in the whole season, and we can live with it. If we learn from it, and go next game, and just play way harder, play our way again.”
It’s the kind of game that everyone wants to pretended never happened, but there was one silver lining. Kemba Walker returned to the floor, played nearly 20 minutes, and came away from it feeling good.
“It felt really good to be out there, really good,” Walker said. “I almost forgot how it felt to be out there. I had fun being out there with my teammates, getting up and down.”
Walker says he wasn’t focused on his stats, which is good because they were not particularly great. He only made 3 of 13 shots and he turned the ball over 5 times, but the Celtics didn’t expect him to come out and light the world on fire.
“I thought, as anybody would have predicted with very limited practice time, there were parts that he probably felt a little rusty,” Brad Stevens said. “But as far as physically moving up and down the floor, all those type of things, I thought he looked good.”
Adding to the many issues Boston had in this game was perhaps a little irrational exuberance from Walker’s teammates.
“I think today my teammates were so excited that I was back, they kind of just sat around and wanted me to do so well and wanted me to shoot and get back right away,” Walker said. “I’m just trying to tell them to play ball and not worry about me. We have to get that chemistry back. I’ve been out for awhile, I haven’t been playing with the team or practicing much. It’s only a matter of time.”
Walker returns to a team that has seen big leaps from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. While Tatum is still in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol, this was Walker’s first chance to share the floor with the Brown this season, and he wants to make sure Brown knows he can still keep doing what he’s been doing.
“He just has to keep on being super aggressive, and that’s it,” Walker said. “He’s killing it. I don’t want him to think just because I’m back he can’t keep killing it, because he can. That’s what I’m here for. I’m here to continue to encourage him just to be great, which he’s been all year. I just want to try to add onto it. That’s it.”
The Celtics have time to get the chemistry part down. Right now, after one of the worst efforts in the Brad Stevens era, the team has reason to be encouraged. Kemba Walker returned, played 20 minutes of basketball, and for the first time in a long time, he’s pain-free.
“In the bubble, that’s all I could think about was my knee. Every step I took, every move I made, it was something, even when I wasn’t playing,” Walker said. “Today when I’m out there I’m making the moves I normally make and I don’t feel anything and it’s joy. I’m excited. I put in a lot of work. I really attacked my rehab to get where I’m at and I want to continue to build off this and just try to stay healthy. That’s the most important thing.”