Can Kemba Walker Bring a Championship Back to Boston?
Although struggling in the 2020 NBA playoffs as of late, Kemba Walker can potentially be the ultimate weapon to propel the Boston Celtics to their first NBA Finals appearance in a decade.
The young duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have elevated their level of play this season, and Marcus Smart continues his run as an elite defensive player, which adds up to the Celtics making a deep playoff run. But people are forgetting that Walker is known as "Cardiac Kemba" for a reason.
The former UCONN guard has the extraordinary ability to take over games with his offensive prowess and come up huge down the stretch. Even though his three point field goal percentage has dropped by twelve percent (26.5%) in the postseason compared to the regular season (38.1%), he's looking to find his stride during the Eastern Conference Finals.
regroup & refocus #BleedGreen https://t.co/IF3Dm6xi3c— Boston Celtics (@Boston Celtics) 1600291072.0
His last three games have shown anything but his usual self, though. Walker shot as low as 18% in Game 6 against the Toronto Raptors and only shot 31% against a stifling Miami Heat defense in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, only putting up 12.7 points in that span, compared to his 19.6 points a game average in this postseason.
But Kemba is aware of his current struggles; in his post game press conference following Game 1, Walker showed humility and leadership in his comments: "I'm just playing terrible, to be honest. There's not much I could say but I've just got to be better. I have to do more for this team, on both ends of the floor. Gotta make better decisions. Just gotta make shots overall."
Kemba Walker Postgame Interview - Game 1 | Heat vs Celtics | September 15, 2020 NBA Playoffswww.youtube.com
But all it takes is one performance to rejuvenate Walker and give him the confidence to start playing at the elite level he's capable of–the one that's made him a four-time all star–and he could become the final piece of the puzzle his team desperately needs in order to pull through.
Walker is one of the only seven active players in the league to score 60 points in a game. That list includes some very notable company—featuring players like Devin Booker, Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, Klay Thompson, and LeBron James.
So his opponents should know the type of productivity to expect from him, but in order to prove it, Walker needs to play his game best.
In a league where the mid-range jumper is seemingly a dead tactic, that's where he thrives the most.
Fans witnessed it in the Big East Tournament back in 2010, where he won the game for UCONN at the buzzer, hitting a critical crossover-to-step back jump shot–a move that is the essence of his success and has become his flat out signature play.
Kemba Walker Step Back Game Winner in MSG 2010 NCAA Tournmentwww.youtube.com
This was the same tournament run that solidified his name in the NBA draft the following year as the ninth overall pick. Jay Bilas said during his draft analysis, "We saw him time and time during the season, the clutch performer that he was. When the game's on the line...young man can play."
This was also evident in Game 1 against Miami. He was only 1-9 from beyond the arc, as perimeter defenders like Jae Crowder suffocated any looks he had, forcing him into poor long range attempts.
But, when it mattered most, Walker utilized his most effective trick, which has cemented his success as a clutch player in the past.
With only 23 seconds left in overtime, Walker took on a 6'6 Tyler Herro in isolation–that's a player with a significant height advantage over the 6'0 play maker. In this possession, instead of wasting time on the clock and pulling up for a low percentage three, he noticed that negative trend and broke it. He pulled up to the left elbow and created significant space with a step-back that resulted in a go ahead bucket that could have potentially been the game winner.
In fact, half of his made field goals in that game came from a step-back two pointer. It's almost as if Kemba wants to have to fight and compete for every shot, rather than pulling up for a wide open three.
“We believe if we clean a couple things up, we'll fix those things and it’ll be a different outcome.” https://t.co/8z6TzjMuPA— Boston Celtics (@Boston Celtics) 1600232639.0
Although his team did end up losing due to some Jimmy Butler heroics, Walker was able to produce effectively in the biggest moment of the game. He not only used his patented move, but he used his court awareness and vision to read the play and know that it was the best option in a pivotal possession.
As his field goal beyond the arc is not where he wants it to be in these playoffs, it presents an opportunity to utilize his biggest strength instead and go for more of those 15-18 footers that have worked so well for him before.
But it's not like he hasn't had good stretches.
Walker has scored 20+ points on five occasions, including a 32 point performance against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round.
As worried as coaches can get after one of their best players gets cold all of a sudden, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens knows he's got a true professional in Walker, who can figure it out and bounce back. Stevens stated in a practice interview the day after a loss: "As far as Kemba goes, you know, I don't lose any sleep over Kemba. Nobody cares more than Kemba. Nobody wants to play better [than Kemba]."
He followed that by elaborating how the coaching staff is constantly working with the nine-year veteran to assure he can play to his strengths and make his life easier. As much as Walker can do for his part, both sides need to be on the same page in order for him to be in the best position to play "Cardiac Kemba" basketball.
HEAT. CELTICS. GAME 2. Eastern Conference Finals continues tonight after an epic Game 1 tonight at 7:00 PM ET on… https://t.co/KlxuLIehpV— NBA (@NBA) 1600372801.0
As adjustments are being made, clearly no one expected this series to be easy. The Celtics as a whole have a few discrepancies they need to figure out in order to come out on top.
Even though players like Smart, Tatum, even Jaylen Brown (most of the time) are playing to the best of their ability, opponents can't forget about Walker so easily. Actually, they shouldn't at all. Because all it takes is that one performance to ignite a devastating threat to Miami's championship aspirations–one fatal mistake that Walker can capitalize on and drive his team to their first finals appearance in 10 years.