Celtics Notes: Kemba Walker’s Struggles Come To Head In Loss To Lakers

'We're riding Kemba'


January 31, 2021

Kemba Walker wasn’t good enough Saturday night.

Against the Los Angeles Lakers, Walker did a lot of good things down the stretch, such as pulling down rebounds, making steals and even getting a block on Anthony Davis.

But with the ball in his hands on the final possession, Walker missed what would have been the game-winner, closing out a four-point night with six rebounds and four assists after shooting 1-for-12 from the field.

And though fans might have preferred to see Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown taking the last shot, the Celtics aren’t sweating how it played out.

“That’s a tough one, right?” Brad Stevens said after the 96-95 loss in his postgame media availability.

“You can get great looks and great opportunities that may be better than what you can draw up, likely better than what you can draw up against that length and that athleticism in a scramble situation like we had. And I loved it. We had a great player have a great look. … Just came up a little bit short.”

Unfortunately for Walker since he’s returned to Boston’s lineup, that’s been a reoccurring theme. He’ll be the first to tell you that.

“Obviously I?m a little bit disappointed in myself, personally, but I?ve been around for a minute now and this ain?t the first time I shot the ball bad to be honest,” Walker said. “Just got to look past it, I have no choice, man. Like I said, I would have loved to have been better, shot the ball better. But unfortunately I didn?t. I take it, I take it on the chin. I understand, I know I could be better. And like I said, I?m just going to continue to work and find my rhythm and find myself and be better for this team.”

Walker does feel he had a good look at the end, but admits he struggled shooting all game and would have loved to help his teammates more.

But once you’re in a slump, it’s hard to keep yourself from spiraling.

“It?s more mental than anything I think. I?m trying my hardest just not to get frustrated,” her said. “I got frustrated tonight at myself and it kind of put me in a bad place. And you know I?m not a player like that to really get frustrated, you know, I?m always smiling and I wasn?t that tonight. I got into my own head and mentally, I hurt myself. I can?t do that for this team, these guys, they look to me. Especially when things are going tough, these guys look at me. I can?t put my head down and be not mentally engaged in the game like I was tonight.”

Tatum feels like the rest of the Celtics can do more to help lift Waker, though.

“I feel like we just need to look for him more, get him more involved,” he said. “Obviously coming back from rehabbing and being on minutes restriction, it?s tough? I just think we need to do a better job of getting him involved while he?s out there and looking for him. He?s one of the best players in the league and once he finds his rhythm we?re going to be clicking on all cylinders.”

Though fans might be getting impatient with Walker as he continues to integrate himself back into the lineup, his teammates and coaches understand the adversity he’s going through.

?(The Lakers) paid a lot of attention to Kemba,” Stevens said. “Kemba has such a wonderful way about him and is the greatest teammate. And he puts a lot of pressure on himself to be really good and I think that tonight they put a lot of attention on him, they had a huge presence on him and it just wasn?t his night, We?re riding Kemba. He is a really good player who really cares about his team and really wants to be a part of something special with guys that are going to give for each other. And sometimes it?s not your night, but more often than not it is his night and we believe strongly in.”

That settles that — for now.

Here are a few more takaways from Boston’s loss to Los Angeles:

— All things considered, the Celtics came within one point of beating the defending NBA champions, who boast two of the best players in the NBA.

And there’s not much you can do when LeBron James is 36 and still playing at this level alongside Davis, a freak of nature in his own right.

James dropped 21 points with seven assists and seven rebounds. Davis, meanwhile, led the Lakers with 27 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, two steals and a first-half double-double.

“Those two are a handful but I think we did a pretty good job,” Brown said of James and Davis.

“In spots we could have rotated with a little bit more intensity and things like that but overall I was proud with how we handled our coverages. We?re looking forward to next time being a little more aggressive without fouling, but I thought we did a pretty good job handling those two.”

It was Tatum who was tasked with guarding Davis, and he was up for the challenge.

“Obviously with somebody like that they got to see a lot of bodies, you can?t let them play 1-on-1 you have to make it tough,” Tatum said of the matchup. “Somebody like him, he?s going to make shots. Obviously he?s super talented but I take on the challenge and try to make it as tough as you can.”

Stevens was pleased by the defensive effort, saying the Celtics gave themselves a chance and in the last few minutes did a great job clawing back into the game..

“I?m more encouraged,” Stevens said. “We had some possessions where there were breakdowns but we also doubled LeBron and A.D. a lot. And we doubled them a lot out at the 3-point line just because the matchups they had were not advantageous. So you?re going to give up some of that.

“If you would have told me we would have held them to 96 before the game, I would have taken it.?

— Marcus Smart went down in the fourth quarter of the loss after a non-contact injury had the guard grimacing in pain and holding his right calf.

Stevens revealed after the game that the initial diagnosis is a right calf strain, and that the team will know more after Smart undergoes an MRI on Sunday.

Hopefully the results are negative, as Boston can’t exactly afford to lose another key ballhandler with rookie Payton Pritchard out and starting point guard Kemba Walker on a minutes restriction.

You could see how it impacted the Celtics on the court when he went down, as the Lakers managed to climb back and win the game after Smart headed to the locker room.

Brown confirmed it did shake the team up a bit.

“Yeah I mean everybody was concerned with his health and we tried to do our best to redirect our energy, because one guy goes down we gotta step up,” Brown said.

“But Marcus is essential to our team, he?s been great. Whether the numbers show it or now, Marcus has been a leader on this team. He?s been looking to get guys the ball in the right spots — particularly me — so when he goes down in a game like that everybody is concerned. But hopefully the MRI is negative and we get him and can get some wins on the road.”

— The Celtics have quite the stretch ahead of them, beginning a five-game road trip on Tuesday, Feb. 2 against the Golden State Warriors at 10 p.m. ET.

After that, they?ll travel to play the Sacramento Kings, L.A. Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz.

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